By Rachael Price
St George Illawarra Dragons halfback Benji Marshall is keen to finish the season on a positive note against the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle on Sunday.
The New Zealand international believes he is coming into his own at the Club and is thrilled to have Paul McGregor as Head Coach for next season.
The 29-year-old knows has also acknowledged how vital the Illawarra Cutters are to the Dragons in building the foundations for the future of the Red-and-Whites and is enthusiastic about the re-signing of fellow halfback Drew Hutchison.
“It was disappointing to lose our chance to play in the Finals,” said Marshall.
“Every team plays for the Finals, now that we can’t make it we can still play for our pride and finish the season on a high.
“It can be hard for the first few days back at training when you know you can’t make it any further but we have a good attitude.
“It’s going to be a tough game at Newcastle, it’s a hard ground to play at and they’ve won seven of their last ten so we’re under no illusions about how tough this game will be.
“Benny is a big loss for the side; he’s a great leader and his actions on the field show him as being one of our best all year.
“I’m really enjoying footy and I think that’s the most important thing; I think that’s the secret to playing good footy.
“I’m loving life down in the Gong and I’m loving being around this club; we have a great young bunch of guys.
“It’s a really positive move having Mary as Coach now; we have a lot of respect for him and we feel like he can lead us to success in the future.
“We weren’t that far off turning our season around, a couple more weeks and we would have been in with a chance.
“Footy is all about learning how to be a better side and we have a really young side, I feel that with a bit of time we can be that team in the Finals.
“It’s awesome to have Drew Hutchison sign with the club; he’s one of the up-and-coming stars in the NRL.
“I’ve trained with him week in week out and had the privilege of teaching him a few things; he’s a great kid with a positive attitude and he’s going to be good for the club.”
“I hope to represent New Zealand in the Four Nations, but at the moment I’m just focusing on playing well here.
“Representing your country is the highest honour in the code; if it comes my way, I’ll take it.
“To have representative players in your team definitely helps for experience.
“It’s really great to see our reserve grades doing well for the club; they are building the future.
“A lot of our players come up through the ranks through there and we support them completely.
The Keebra Park junior feels he and on-field partner Gareth Widdop are performing well together but knows a preseason will build their game up.
“I think we’re really starting to gel well; he’s a player that you really want to get the ball to and we never have any tiffs about who’s taking the ball where, we just want to share evenly.
“With a bit more time and a preseason together we will be able to work things out further and get our on field performance at top notch.
“I have complete faith in Gareth; he knows when and where to take the ball and he takes the pressure off me a lot on the field and that’s something I’ve lacked in the past.
“I think we work pretty well together and we’re honest with each other and he thinks he’s funny.
“It’s always in the back of your mind to represent your country but it wasn’t a factor in my decision to return to the NRL, I just want to play good footy and be happy playing here again.
“I feel like I’ve built up my game; I’ve been getting better and getting a bit more confidence out there.
“I have dreamt of representing New Zealand; I’ve had that opportunity before and I hope I get the chance to do it again.
“Wayne Bennett would have done his best at the Knights to assist them to be a better side; he’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve been coached by.
“He was always honest with me and that gave me a lot of confidence in myself; in 2008 at the World Cup he took me aside and told me a few things and that has contributed to becoming the player I knew I could be.
“I think coaching is a lot about knowing your players and I think Wayne is one of the best in the business at that."