St George Illawarra NRL coach Paul McGregor has criticised New Zealand Test mentor Stephen Kearney’s decision to snub in-form Benji Marshall for next Friday’s clash with Australia.
The Dragons’ playmaker has helped the joint venture to five straight wins and is playing his best football in many years alongside halves partner Gareth Widdop.
However, Kearney said on Thursday he was not intending to recall his former skipper to his side for the first time since 2012 with his first choice being Kieran Foran – struggling with a hamstring injury – and Shaun Johnson.
“It’s sad to be totally honest; he and Gareth have been running around the park well,” McGregor said.
“You’d like to think he’d be a chance of playing rep football. I encourage our players to do it as it’s really important to their development.
“Benji is a player who has played there before, captained his country and I think it’s a shame the coach has come out early and said that.”
With Foran no certainty to play, McGregor said it was strange for Kearney to come out on the front foot so early and rule out the chance of an emotional return to the international scene for the former Golden Boot winner.
“It’s a tough way of thinking when you look at the players who are available and those who are injured,” McGregor said.
“You have a bloke in form like Benji is and, although he knows he’s got things to work on and is doing so, he’s been a big part of how well we’re playing.”
McGregor will coach in his first Anzac Day blockbuster with the Sydney Roosters on Saturday in front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Allianz Stadium.
His second-placed team are the form side in the competition but have lost the past five meetings with the Roosters.
Despite this poor recent record, McGregor insists it adds no extra pressure on his players.
“The past is in the past and we’re looking to the future,” he said.
“You have to look at the past three years and where we have been and it has been disappointing.
“But you can’t change it. What can change is tomorrow.”
SYDNEY ROOSTERS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA KEY STATS:
* The Roosters have lost their past three matches, but have not had four straight defeats under coach Trent Robinson
* Dragons skipper Ben Creagh will make his 250th appearance for the club against the Roosters
* The Roosters have scored 20 points or more in each of their past seven matches against the Dragons and 30 or more in each of their past four
* The Dragons are flying having won their past five matches, a feat they have not achieved since winning nine straight in 2011