Less than nine months after his emotional exit from the Wests Tigers, Benji Marshall will make his NRL return for St George Illawarra on Saturday against Parramatta.
Marshall is free to don the famous red-V for the first time at Pirtek Stadium after the Dragons met a transfer fee set by the Tigers when they agreed to allow their former star player an early release from his contract to join Super Rugby side the Blues last year.
Dragons CEO Peter Doust and his Tigers counterpart Grant Mayer put the finishing touches to a package believed to be in the region of $200,000 on Friday morning.
Coach Steve Price had no hesitation in announcing Marshall would face the Eels once the paperwork had been lodged with the NRL and the 29-year-old proved his fitness after his first week of training.
“Benji has ticked all the boxes this week and is very keen to get back out on the field and play,” Price said.
“He’s trained well and fitted in really well with the group and we know he’ll only get better as the weeks go by and he gets more rugby league training and games under his belt.
“But we are looking forward to having him as a part of our team tomorrow.”
Mayer said he was pleased to see Marshall back in the NRL and praised Doust and the Dragons for the manner in which they dealt with the situation.
“Peter and the Dragons have acted in a very professional way and like all rugby league fans, I am happy to see Benji back,” Mayer told AAP.
“We pretty much had the agreement in place on Thursday but we both just had to go away and sort a few things out and everyone is happy with the situation.
“I believe our game has reached a stage where transfer fees will become commonplace now rugby league is a billion dollar business.”
Tigers coach Mick Potter echoed Mayer’s sentiments but said Marshall would need to improve his attitude to training at his new club.
Marshall admitted recently he’d been in cruise mood for much of the last two years and Potter noticed a decline in his standards in the second half of last season.
“He had ebbs and flows last year,” Potter said.
“At the start of the year he was coming in early, doing extras and looked at times that he was doing a lot more than the others.
“Other times perhaps he wasn’t. He had a trip overseas (mid-season) and maybe he might have had too much to eat.
“But that’s something he knew he’d done wrong and he made amends when he came back he worked really hard.
“But I want him in the game, he is a very good player and a good person.”
Parramatta co-captain Jarryd Hayne admits the Eels are wary of Marshall and the representative star said the former Kiwi skipper was still fresh enough to be a force at his new club.
“He hasn’t been out of the game too long. He’s only missed nine games,” Hayne said.
“He returns with a lot more hunger than when he left and a lot more motivation.
“He’s going add a whole new dimension to the right side of their attack.
“When someone is desperate to prove people wrong it can take them up to another level.”