Benji Marshall fails to fire up Dragons' game
He might have spent eight months out of the NRL but Benji Marshall was soon in sadly familiar surroundings as his highly-anticipated return from rugby resembled the predicament he faced during his last game for the Wests Tigers.
Marshall's comeback - engineered by an increasing desperate St George-Illawarra - again cast the former Kiwis captain and Golden Boot winner in a struggling team, where every misstep was ridiculed.
Parramatta ruthlessly removed any hope of a dream return for the playmaker and the Dragons hopes of honouring the memory of legendary centre Reg Gasnier were also dashed at Pirtek Stadium as the Eels completed a clinical 36-0 victory - the first time they had held an opponent scoreless since 2009.
Playing his first game since the Wests Tigers were thrashed 50-22 in Townsville last September, Marshall had hoped to provide an instant return on the $A1.1 million the Dragons reportedly offered after his Super Rugby ambitions were thwarted at the Blues.
Paying $A150,000 in compensation to the Wests Tigers also ramped up pressure on the 29-year-old who was centre stage despite Jarryd Hayne, Chris Sandow and Corey Norman starring for an Eels side that remain unbeaten on home soil in 2014.
Three training sessions with his new teammates amount to minimal preparation and when only one involved five-eighth Gareth Widdop, it was inevitable Marshall would have difficulties in a roster languishing in 13th.
Yet critics will point out the unforced errors - mistakes pounced upon by Parramatta's players and their fans - to suggest the Dragons have acquired the Benji Marshall whose legacy at Leichhardt diminished with every performance last year.
Stray passes, including and intercept and one that landed over the sideline, marred his contribution to a no-contest that was settled early in the second half though tries to Hayne and Ken Sio.
Marshall made a circumspect start as Widdop dominated the playmaking role, and defended at centre - a task that proved surprisingly successful given historic concerns about his tackling.
However, he was signed for his attacking prowess and Marshall admitted that facet of his game needed work during the bye week.
"I felt a bit of pressure out there and I probably put too much pressure on myself to try and do something every touch," he said.
"I knew the expectation was going to be high, not only from St George supporters. I probably let that dictate what I was trying to do out there .... (I was) trying to do too much and play the big play every time.
"I was trying to be the creator, I was trying too hard and that hurt me with my pass selection," said Marshall, who was credited with five of the Dragons 19 errors.
Still, Marshall welcomed the opportunity to resurrect his NRL career.
"I'm definitely happy to be back playing, but when it's like that it's pretty shit. I'm pretty disappointed in the way it panned out .... compounding errors after errors."
Marshall thought a pass to Mike Cooper flat rather than forward when the Dragons trailed 6-0 but there was nothing contentious about his dropped pass from the English forward that led to Norman racing 80-metres as the Parramatta faithful chanted "Benji Benji" while followed the five-eighth to the line.
Dragons coach Steve Price, under pressure now the Dragons have lost six of their last seven, correctly assessed Marshall's performance as mixed.
"I thought there was some displays that were quite good, and there were displays where it's going to take a little bit of time. We didn't expect miracles out of Benji. There's still a lot of work to do," he said.
Parramatta Eels 36 (Ken Sio 2, Jarryd Hayne 2, Corey Norman, Pauli Pauli tries; Chris Sandow 6 goals) St George Illawarra Dragons 0. HT: 12-0