ANDREW JOHNS – NINEMSN COLUMN

Beefed up Marshall is below his best

Benji Marshall is the first to admit that he is not playing at his best at the moment. To me he looks as though he has bulked up a little bit too much and it may have taken the edge off his running game. All players go through form slumps at different times during their careers for different reasons. I always found the best way to turn things around was to focus on getting the defensive side of my game right and from that I gained a lot of confidence. It always seemed to work for me.

Benji is up against Todd Carney and the Sharks this week and it will be a tough test for the Tigers. Against Newcastle last week, after losing Paul Gallen in the first minutes of the game and then falling eight points behind, the Sharks looked like they were in for a long afternoon. But Carney, with the help of great games from Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita lead a gutsy fight back to take the points. Carney is starting to look like the man to fill the New South Wales No.6 jersey after having a couple of injury issues early this season.

Blues coach Laurie Daley will need Carney fit and at his best to take on the Queenslanders. He already has some selection headaches with fullback Brett Stewart’s back injury set to keep him out of the first match of the series. Stewart has been in great form and will be a big loss for New South Wales. People have questioned the form of Jarryd Hayne for Parramatta this year, but the one thing you can be sure of is that Hayne will lift when he is on the big stage. Hayne should move to fullback for the Blues which will then leave his wing spot to be filled.

With doubts over the fitness of Brett Morris it will be interesting to see who Daley ends up picking on both wings. A couple of weeks ago I would have said Akuila Uate would step into the role, but now I’m not so sure. Nathan Merritt certainly deserves to be on one wing and the way Blake Ferguson has been playing lately for the Raiders I’d be tempted to give him a run.

Canberra shocked everyone with their victory over the Storm in Melbourne last week. Every club in the competition should watch that tape, to find the key to success against the mighty Storm defence. The Raiders didn’t try to play the Storm at their own game, with complicated decoy and looping block plays. They played direct and with Ferguson they attacked the defensive gap between the centre and the wing. We have seen for years now that Ferguson is a freakish talent, capable of incredible things on the football field. He has had his off field issues but if he can maintain focus, he could be a great asset to Canberra and New South Wales this year.

The big clash this week will be between Manly and Sydney Roosters on Monday night at Brookvale Oval. Manly shouldn’t have beaten St George Illawarra last week, having only 38 per cent of possession during the match – but they did. Manly are an incredibly tough side and they somehow find a way to win games they shouldn’t. Without Brett Stewart at the back and with Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney in red-hot form for the Roosters it is going to be a tough night for the Sea Eagles.

The Roosters are a genuine top-four premiership threat this year and their defence has been a highlight. Along with South Sydney they are the form side in the competition. Imagine that for a grand final match-up – the Roosters and the Rabbitohs, it would be a marketing dream.

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