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Benji's signature battle a local derby

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 1/05/2014 Brad Walter
a © Brendon Thorne/Getty Images a

Benji Marshall is set to make a decision between St George Illawarra and Cronulla after the Dragons sensationally re-entered the race to sign the former Wests Tigers playmaker.

Marshall, who has now returned to Sydney on a permanent basis, met St George Illawarra coach Steve Price on Wednesday and is considering a deal to join the Dragons until 2016.

He has also met Sharks officials and intends to make a decision quickly on where he will resume his NRL career after rejecting an offer from Melbourne.

While Marshall had been interested in playing under Craig Bellamy in a team featuring Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, the deal with the Storm was only for the remainder of the season.

Both St George Illawarra and Cronulla have proposed two-and-a-half year deals and Marshall was understood to be mulling over his decision.

With former Tigers teammates Andrew Fifita, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan, Bryce Gibbs and Blake Ayshford at Cronulla, along with ex-chief executive Steve Noyce, who was in charge of the joint venture when Marshall began his career in 2003, the Sharks have been favourites to sign him since Fairfax Media revealed 10 days ago he was quitting the Auckland Blues to return to the NRL.

However, the Dragons also hold appeal and his signing would complete an all-star backline that includes England five-eighth Gareth Widdop, New Zealand Test backs Jason Nightingale and Gerard Beale, Australian winger Brett Morris, NSW Origin fullback Josh Dugan and Indigenous All Stars centre Dylan Farrell.

Marshall also has close friends in Wollongong and he drove there to spend the night after flying into Sydney last Thursday afternoon for a weekend visit to consult manager Martin Tauber and begin sorting through his options.

Besides St George Illawarra, Cronulla and Melbourne, the Cowboys and Parramatta also expressed interest in the 29-year-old but Fairfax Media was told he had ruled out all but the Sharks and Storm before returning to Auckland.

However, the Dragons re-emerged as a serious option mid-week and Marshall is understood to have met Price - but not at St George Leagues Club as was being reported on social media.

Before his return to Sydney, Marshall and wife Zoe managed to sell the house they had purchased in Auckland just six weeks ago after being approached by neighbours following the announcement he was returning to the NRL.

Zoe, who had television and radio work in Auckland, will follow Marshall to Sydney next week.

If he signs with St George Illawarra, Marshall's first game could be as soon as next Sunday against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium.

With the Mothers Day clash being a Dragons home game, the club could cash in as Marshall's presence would be sure to attract a lot of interest.

The Sharks play the Eels at Parramatta Stadium the following night, and then host Wests Tigers the following weekend in a match guaranteed to draw a big crowd if he played.

The Tigers are seeking compensation from whichever club signs Marshall as there was a clause in his deed of release at the end of last season in which he agreed not to play for anyone else in the NRL before 2016.

Salford and Catalans Dragons also expressed interest in Marshall but he did not want to play in Super League.

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