Benji joins Dragons

Benji Marshall could play his first game back in rugby league next week after agreeing to a 2-1/2 year deal with St George Illawarra on Friday afternoon.

Marshall could run out in the red V for the first time next Saturday when the Dragons travel to Parramatta to take on the Eels at Pirtek Stadium, but put a circle around Sunday, July 27.

That is the date Marshall is set to go head to head with the club he guided to the premiership in 2005 in front of an expected crowd of 40,000 at ANZ Stadium in round 20.

"I have a point to prove. Not to everyone else but to myself. I left on a low. My form was terrible. I thought that came down to my attitude. This move to the Dragons gets me out of that comfort zone and is something that I needed. I'm keen to do whatever it takes. Do I think i'm past my best? No."

"It's obviously taken a bit of time to get it sorted. I'm happy to be back in the NRL and the history of the Dragons. I'm looking forward to learn about the history and get involved in the culture. Train hard with them and earn a spot in this team. I've been thinking about the decision about what was best for me. Their back three is the best in the competition. Their forwards are solid and up and coming. The club is on the way up again and it's something I want to be part of.

"I have to get a feel for the game again. I feel like I'm ready to go. What I did learn about coming to rugby, I got lazy and complacent. Hopefully I can do the opposite of that here. I feel like a little kid again."

Dragons coach Steve Price said Marshall looked to be in good shape.

"We'll get Benji to training on Tuesday. We won't be changing too much. We have good systems in place," he said. "The way we play it's irrelevant. we play both sides of the ruck. I've had a few dealings with Benj he is very humble. I've consulted with a number of players in our playing group."

St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust described Marshall as a marquee athlete.

"Someone that comes to the Dragons with the right attitude and somebody that our players are keen to have to join the Dragons. He'll bring a number of attributes to our club. It's not a gamble. Benji said it took us a while to get through our due diligence.

After a couple of weeks of negotiations, the Dragons finally tabled an offer to the former Wests Tigers five-eighth on Friday afternoon, just hours before Marshall's self-imposed deadline on the club.

Marshall set a Friday, 5pm deadline on the Dragons on Thursday, frustrated by the club's inability to put its verbal agreement to paper.

If the Dragons were unable to deliver by that time, Marshall would have signed a 2-1/2 year deal with Cronulla to reunite with former Tigers teammates Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington, Andrew Fifita, Bryce Gibbs and Blake Ayshford at the Sharks.

However, at about 3.30pm on Friday, Marshall contacted the Sharks to inform the club he would not be taking up their offer, which was close to $100,000 less.

Cronulla, through their chief executive Steve Noyce, expressed his disappointment at missing out on Marshall.

''We made Benji a very good offer and are disappointed he won't be joining our club,'' Noyce said. ''We have strong values surrounding mateship here at the Sharks and with a collection of his good friends at the club, thought that may have swayed him. As it turned out that obviously wasn't the priority for him with his final decision. We can accept that and we wish him well.

''It must be said in Todd Carney, who is on a long-term contract here, and Jeff Robson, who has been terrific for us this year, along with others we have coming through our lower grades, we certainly have quality players in the halves and confidence in their ability to do the job for us."

It is understood the Dragons may still need to shift a player from their squad for next season to accommodate Marshall.

St George Illawarra were also among a raft of clubs trying to sign Melbourne back-rower Kevin Proctor for next season, however with Marshall joining the Dragons and Ryan Hoffman signing with the Warriors for next season, Proctor is likely to stay at the Storm.

Dragons halves Sam Williams, Michael Witt and Kyle Stanley are among 12 players off contract at the end of the season, along with back-rower Bronson Harrison and prop Matt Groat.

Marshall will return to rugby league after a short stint in rugby union with the Auckland Blues in the Super Rugby competition.

The move to the 15-man code did not work out as he had hoped, with Marshall announcing on Easter Monday that he would return to the NRL after a meeting with Blues coach John Kirwan.

Melbourne, North Queensland and Parramatta also expressed interest in Marshall, but his decision narrowed to the Dragons and Sharks late last week, before Marshall signed with the joint venture club.

This story Benji joins Dragons first appeared on Brisbane Times.