League: Warriors worried about Benji factor

By Michael Brown

Benji Marshall is seeking a release from the final two years of his Wests Tigers deal. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall is seeking a release from the final two years of his Wests Tigers deal. Photo / Getty Images

Benji Marshall's future will dominate talk around the Wests Tigers this week and Warriors coach Matt Elliott is worried it will prove a distraction for his side ahead of Friday night's match between the two teams.

Marshall is seeking a release from the final two years of his Wests Tigers deal and his agent, Martin Tauber, has confirmed he will switch to rugby union at the end of the season.

The 28-year-old is likely to be named in the Tigers side to face the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval on Friday and it remains to be seen what impact the events of the week will have on the player himself, his teammates and the opposition. The Tigers have also won four of their last six after a dreadful seven-game losing streak.

It's a game the Warriors need to win after they were beaten 30-13 by the table-topping Rabbitohs in their last outing in Perth 10 days ago, which snapped a five-game winning streak.

They head into the weekend's round in 11th, only two points out of the top eight with eight matches remaining, but there is a log-jam in the middle of the table with only four points separating fifth and 11th.

"I'm concerned about this game because of the distractions associated with the opposition," Elliott said. "Not only Benji but there are also a couple of guys playing tomorrow night [in the State of Origin decider] as well so, if you want to be distracted, the opportunity exists.

"We have to play better footy and we got a bit of a lesson in our last game. There were some good things we did, but I preferred the experience of five weeks before [when we were winning] than a couple of weeks ago."

The Warriors pushed the Rabbitohs and led 13-12 heading into the final 13 minutes of the game but conceded three late tries as the competition leaders found their stride. It showed the difference between the two sides, with the Rabbitohs further down the track in assembling a side capable of winning the NRL, but also showed the Warriors are not far off the best teams in the competition.

Elliott today named Manu Vatuvei in the starting side but the winger still needed to get through training before being confirmed to play the Tigers. He missed the last game with a shin contusion and pulled out of Monday's training but was rated by Elliott as an 80 per cent chance of playing.

Ngani Laumape would play if Vatuvei is ruled out.

"His form before his injury placed him in our best two or three players over an extended period," Elliott said. "Massive fingers crossed even though Ngani has done a tremendous job for us."

Prop Russell Packer was included in an extended seven-man bench but is struggling with a recurring hamstring strain and Charlie Gubb, who made his debut against the Rabbitohs, has an abdominal complaint and is a major doubt.

Second rower Feleti Mateo will make his 69th consecutive appearance since joining the club in 2011 while Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai and Ben Matulino will join Mateo in maintaining a record of playing in every game so far this season.

Warriors side to play the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Stadium, Sydney, on Friday (9.35pm NZT): Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rpira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Charlie Gubb, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux, Ngani Laumape, Russell Packer, Suaia Matagi.

- APNZ

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