Benji Marshall has just four weeks to earn a NRL lifeline but Cronulla are offering the under-fire playmaker no sympathy as they seek to address their own woes.
Off-contract with St George Illawarra at the end of this season, Marshall’s career hangs by a thread.
Amid questions about his own form and that of the side on the back of five straight losses, Marshall was forced to deny allegations he was involved in a heated blow-up with coach Paul McGregor during a video session following last week’s loss to Brisbane.
The writing appeared to be on the wall earlier in the year when the club made plays for Luke Keary and Corey Norman and McGregor this week failed to give assurances Marshall would line up next year in the ‘Red V’.
Marshall is adamant he still has two years left in him and he could hardly ask for a better assignment to prove his worth than against the second-placed Sharks.
“Benji’s a quality player,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
“You don’t win grand finals and play for your country if you’re not a quality player.
“We just hope he doesn’t bounce back this week and we’ll just be treating Benji the same as we treat the rest of the Dragons.”
Marshall shared halfback duties at training with youngster Drew Hutchison during the week however McGregor said he was not about to be dropped.
The Sharks are second but are an unsatisfied camp after having their 15-game winning run broken by a draw with Gold Coast and loss to Canberra.
The Sharks will be buoyed by the inclusion of retiring hooker Michael Ennis, who missed last week’s defeat to the Raiders because of a virus.
Ennis’ absence allowed Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson to run amok through the middle of the ruck in a game-changing performance and Flanagan promised they would be a different side with the ex-NSW No.9 in their line-up.
“What he brings to the dressing room pre-game, his contribution out of dummy-half, his talk in the game, his little one per cent efforts, his kick pressure, his kick chase, all of those things are really hard to replicate,” Flanagan said.
“We definitely missed him and, even at training, you notice a difference.”
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Only twice in club history have the Sharks gone a season without losing back-to-back games – their grand final year in 1973 and in 1996
* The Sharks have not lost on the road since round three at Brookvale Oval, losing to Manly 22-12
* Discipline is a mixed bag for the Sharks – they are awarded the second-most penalties (7.9) but concede the equal-most penalties (8.1)
Source: Fox Sports Stats