Benji Marshall’s signing has significant ramifications for other players, with spots on NRL clubs’ rosters now at a premium.
Benji Marshall’s signing has significant ramifications for other players, with spots on NRL clubs’ rosters now at a premium.

Transfer window: Benji signing a blow for free agents

The race is on for NRL hopefuls to land one of just 30 spots remaining on teams for the upcoming season.

With less than six weeks until the start of the 2021 campaign, roster places are at a premium, especially after veteran five-eighth Benji Marshall officially completed South Sydney's squad.

Marshall was on Friday officially unveiled as a Rabbitohs player, extending his remarkable career into a 19th NRL season, and he immediately declared his desire to cap his new one-year deal with a premiership.

"I couldn't sleep last night, I was that excited. It felt like it was the first day at school," Marshall said ahead of his first training session on Friday, where he ran around Redfern Oval in the cardinal and myrtle alongside his new Rabbitohs teammates.

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Benji Marshall trains with his new club, South Sydney, at Redfern Oval. Picture: Adam Yip
Benji Marshall trains with his new club, South Sydney, at Redfern Oval. Picture: Adam Yip

"It's an opportunity for me to not only play, but to go out winning a competition. With this squad here, the coaches, it's a great opportunity for that and that's my goal."

But a number of other players risk not getting that chance, with spots on every club's 30-man squads expected to quickly fill up.

The likes of former Origin hooker Nathan Peats, Canterbury centre Tim Lafai, Manly utility back Brendan Elliot, Brisbane's Jamil Hopoate, Gold Coast half Tyrone Roberts and Brisbane's Jordan Kahu and Richie Kennar are just some of last season's contracted players so far without NRL deals for 2021.

Some clubs had deliberately not filled places while they waited to see what the 2021 salary cap would be, keen to explore whether they could snag a bargain from rival teams looking to offload players in order to become cap compliant.

While others like to leave spots open to potentially fill in-house with development players who impress during the pre-season.

Benji Marshall chats with Wayne Bennett. Picture: Adam Yip
Benji Marshall chats with Wayne Bennett. Picture: Adam Yip

Clubs don't have to officially declare their full rosters until June 30, but Souths, Canberra and New Zealand already have their top-30 contracted spots locked in, leaving 13 clubs with vacancies.

Penrith have the most with five, followed by Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta, St George Illawarra, the Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers with three each.

Trent Barrett has been active in the player market overhauling Canterbury's roster and still has two spots to fill. It's understood the Bulldogs were looking at a wing replacement for Christian Crichton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training. While the other spot was being left open in case they could convince Penrith to release their 2022 signing a year early, but that seems unlikely.

Likewise, the Tigers would love 2022 recruit Daine Laurie for this season, but there appears little benefit for the Panthers to let him go, considering he's currently on a development contract at the foot of the mountains.

 

 

The Eels are monitoring potential replacements for centre Michael Jennings, who has been provisionally suspended after failing a drugs test. They could also target a middle forward but, if a suitable option doesn't emerge, Parramatta will fill their remaining roster spots from the club's crop of up-and-coming players, and go into the free agency market for next season armed with a sizeable amount of money to spend.

The Rabbitohs have assembled a premiership-ready roster with the late signings of veteran pair Marshall and Josh Mansour.

Rabbitohs head of football Mark Ellison described Marshall as a premiership difference maker when lauding the 35-year-old's signature.

"Anyone who follows rugby league will understand what an asset Benji Marshall will be for our team and our club throughout 2021," Ellison said.

"He is a leader of men, he has been playing at the highest levels of the game over a long and distinguished career, he comes with the highest of recommendations from Wayne (Bennett), he will provide great support to the experienced halves pairing we have in Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker and his experience and knowledge that he can pass down to the young up-and-coming halves we have at the club will be priceless.

"Benji has still got what it takes to make a difference during an NRL Premiership campaign."

 

 

Originally published as Transfer window: Benji signing a blow for free agents

Liam Knight makes Benji feel welcome. Picture: Adam Yip
Liam Knight makes Benji feel welcome. Picture: Adam Yip


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