Benji's back! And the Dragons are reaping the rewards. Image courtesy of: Source: Getty Images
Penrith Panthers v St George-Illawarra Dragons
Saturday June 14 – 5:35 PM (AEST)
The St George-Illawarra Dragons were looking for a lifeline when they bought Benji Marshall. With both Sam Williams and Michael Witt unable to make the halfback position their own, they needed a specialist. Enter Marshall. While his first two games were below par, he proved he can still produce some magic last week against the Sharks. The Penrith Panthers have had no such problems. Halves Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace continue to blossom together. If one controls the play, the other knows where to back up his partner.
It was by far Benji’s best performance in almost two years. He appears to have regained the hunger that's been missing. When he quit the Tigers last year, he left with a Grand Final, a World Cup, a Four Nations and a Golden Boot in his trophy cabinet. He seemed to have achieved it all and got bored with the game. But after a brief flirtation with Rugby Union, Benji said he'd returned to the game with a purpose. Against a second-string Sharks side, Marshall put on a clinic. Everything he touched turned to gold. Origin stars Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin have been replaced by Charly Runciman and Bronson Harrison, while Mitch Rein returns from suspension.
The Panthers are on top of the table. Tipped as the dark horse of the competition, nobody expected them to be this good. With Soward and Wallace steering the ship, coach Ivan Cleary needs his men not to get complacent. Josh Mansour is so damaging out wide it’s scary. He has the strength of Greg Bird, along with the speed of Darius Boyd. Kevin Naiqama is likely to come onto the wing for David Simmons (knee) and Tyrone Peachy starts for the Adam Docker. Bryce Cartwright retains his spot on the bench.
The Mountain Men are the pace-setters at the moment. Phil Gould was ridiculed for his five-year game plan at the Panthers, but who is laughing now? Benji may be back, but both he and the Dragons have a long way to go.
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