MAIN MAN: Benji Marshall is back for St George, with the club hoping he can provide the spark that has been missing while he has been injured.
MAIN MAN: Benji Marshall is back for St George, with the club hoping he can provide the spark that has been missing while he has been injured. DEAN LEWINSAAP

Dragons relying on Benji to hold off chasers

RUGBY LEAGUE: It's now or never for the NRL's most hunted club.

In eighth place and ahead of a surging Manly only on points differential, St George Illawarra comes up against an out-of-sorts Penrith tonight knowing a loss will open the door for the Sea Eagles to take its place in the top eight a fortnight out from the finals.

Still licking their wounds after being mauled 32-6 by the Broncos last weekend, the Dragons will be thrilled to welcome back veteran playmaker Benji Marshall.

The Kiwi international missed last week with a hamstring complaint, and the team looked devoid of attacking variation for much of the 80 minutes.

With so much to play for, the Dragons can be expected to hit back against a Penrith side which is still missing a host of key players through injury.

The casualty ward includes halfback Peter Wallace, winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and brilliant fullback Matt Moylan.

The Panthers also have lost big-hitting forward Nigel Plum, with the less punishing but skilful Tyrone Peachey moving into the back row.

The speedy Nathan Farrell is back on the wing for the Dragons, while coach Paul McGregor has shuffled his pack around to accommodate forward Jack de Belin on the bench after he filled in for Marshall against the Broncos.

NSW representative forward Trent Merrin drops back to his preferred lock position in what will be his last game in the Red V at WIN Stadium before he joins the Panthers from the start of next season.

McGregor said he had spoken to Merrin about the situation and was confident he was focused on finishing his seven years with the Dragons in style.

"Trent's more concerned about what he needs to do for the remainder of this season than anything else," McGregor said.

"It's his last game at WIN Stadium in the Red V. He's very proud to have worn the jumper. What happens next year happens next year."

McGregor also said he was confident two trips to New Zealand in the past month, the second one finishing with a detour via Brisbane, would not prove costly against Penrith.

"It's good to be home - nine days on the road does take a little bit out of you," he said.

"We've lightened the load right off (this week) - done minimal on the park, and more between the ears.

"We'll be fresh."

Panthers forward Bryce Cartwright is the danger man for the Dragons with his ability to break the line, run the right angles and off-load and link up with Peachey who was outstanding last week against the Warriors, running for almost 250m.

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