Friday 15 December 2017 / 03:13 PM

WHERE DO BENJI & ‘COAL TRAIN’ FIT IN?

In the wake of last week’s frenzy of signing and re-signing, Tuesday produced news and rumours of two of the more curious recruitment narratives of the off-season so far.

Two of the NRL era’s great enigmas are set to be thrown lifelines for 2017, with giant forward Dave Taylor being given the opportunity to train with the burgeoning Canberra Raiders over the summer, and the Brisbane Broncos reportedly considering a one-year offer for veteran playmaker Benji Marshall.

But the interest from two of the premiership’s heavyweight clubs creates more questions about how the well-travelled players fit in, rather than answers to holes in their respective rosters.

Taylor was released after just one season at Super League club Catalans, joining the French outfit after 170 NRL games in 10 seasons for Brisbane, Souths and Gold Coast, during which time he earned eight Queensland Origin jumpers and a solitary Test appearance for Australia in 2012.

Unquestionably one of the most destructive and gifted forwards the game has seen, getting the best out of Taylor on a regular basis prevented the Rockhampton product from truly developing into one of the code’s elite.

His work ethic and attitude, on and off the field, has been a perpetual bugbear, prompting his exit from the Broncos, Rabbitohs and Titans, who all ran out of patience.

Ricky Stuart has enjoyed extraordinary success with Super League signings in the past couple of years, headlined by Brits Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead, and former Kiwi Test star Sia Soliola. He’s also turned a host of journeymen, fringe stars and unknown youngsters, such as Blake Austin, Joey Leilua, Shannon Boyd, Jack Wighton and Jordan Rapana, into genuine top-line performers.

But unlocking the 28-year-old Taylor’s full potential – a task that proved beyond the likes of Wayne Bennett, John Lang, John Cartwright and Neil Henry – would be ‘Sticky’s’ most remarkable personnel achievement yet.

The Raiders boast plenty of backrow talent, including young guns Joseph Tapine, Clay Priest and Luke Bateman, to back up starters Soliola, Whitehead and Josh Papalii, but the impending departure of Paul Vaughan will leave a gap depth-wise and Taylor could be a good fit if they get him on the cheap.

The Broncos’ potential capture of Marshall is much harder to fathom, however.

Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt are locked in as the side’s halves pairing, though Hunt has been linked to a move to Parramatta – but that’s highly unlikely to occur before the 2017 season kicks off.

While Hunt’s form was disappointing on the whole in 2016, it would take a major meltdown next year for Marshall to unseat him – particularly considering Marshall is coming off a poor season for St George Illawarra in the No.7 jumper, and is far better suited to playing five-eighth with a steady organiser inside him at halfback.

Marshall took the rare step of apologising to Dragons fans on social media following his exit from the club.

“I am personally sorry for the results on the field this year and the part I played in that,” Marshall posted on Instagram. “But I’m glad I could be a part of last year’s team in making the finals for the first time in four years, which was a highlight for me.

“A big thank you to all the players that I played with and trained with over the years as you guys have made my time at the club very enjoyable and memorable.”

Some veterans provide great value to NSW Cup and Queensland Cup sides, but Marshall wouldn’t fit into that category. A player of his ilk would be a target, and the appeal to Marshall himself of going to a club where he is only a small chance of commanding a first-grade spot is hard to understand.

Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has a long association with Marshall via his involvement in the Kiwis’ triumphant 2008 World Cup campaign and the NRL All-Stars, but a Brisbane move would be a perplexing one for both parties.

The Melbourne Storm seemed Marshall’s best bet after the grand finalists lost No.6 Blake Green to Manly, but noise around that possible deal has died right down.

“At the moment, we’re in dialogue with a few NRL clubs – Melbourne’s not one of them. They’re all in Sydney,” Marshall’s management rep Mario Kartak told AAP on Thursday.

“Obviously, when you’re in dialogue with somebody and you’re working out if we can and if we can’t, at the moment there could be a possibility (of retirement),” he said.

“But in Benji’s mind, he’s playing rugby league no matter what.”

The other teams that could genuinely benefit from the 31-year-old’s influence include Newcastle, Canterbury, Parramatta and South Sydney…Brisbane arguably has less use for the Kiwi great than any club in the NRL.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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