St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has jumped to the defence of under-fire playmaker Benji Marshall.
The ex-New Zealand captain has copped criticism from former greats Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler in the wake of an underwhelming start to the NRL campaign by the Dragons.
Adding fuel to the fire, Marshall has reportedly knocked back a $300,000 one-year contract extension from the club, claiming he feels he’s worth more.
Following last weekend’s 36-0 shellacking by North Queensland in Townsville Johns claimed Marshall was creating nothing for his outside men, while former Test skipper Brad Fittler said the 31-year-old needed to toughen up.
McGregor says the Dragons inability to retain possession against the Cowboys would have caused any half to struggle.
“It’s very hard for a halfback to play on the back end of a team that’s not getting a high completion rate,” McGregor said.
“Possession is everything in the NRL and, especially as a halfback, you want to get on the back of good go-forward.”
McGregor also says he has no drama with Marshall’s ongoing contract saga, claiming he has no involvement in recruitment at the Dragons.
“I’ve never had a problem with Benji and I haven’t got one now,” he said.
“I distance myself from that for a reason, because I’ve got to coach.
“The best thing about coaching is you’ve got to get tight to your players and get the best out of them.
“There’s nothing wrong with Benji.”
McGregor’s more immediate concern is finding a way to beat in-form Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
Despite a two-win, three-loss record from their opening five matches, the Dragons have only scored 40 points in those games.
That total is easily the lowest in the NRL, with Parramatta (70) the next-lowest points scorers.
McGregor doesn’t feel there is anything wrong with the Dragons’ attack though, arguing it is his teams inability to retain possession which is stifling their scoring potential.
“Any time we’ve been over or around the 80 per cent completion rate we’ve won both games,” he said.
“The other three games we were well below a percentage you can compete at and you can’t build pressure if you haven’t got the footy.
“We’re just not doing that in enough of our games at the moment.”