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Despite falling short in his bid to sign Shaun Johnson earlier this year, Wests Tigers assistant coach Benji Marshall is backing the veteran No.7 to cap off a brilliant season by claiming the Dally M Medal.
Prior to Johnson inking a one-year extension with the Warriors last month, the Wests Tigers were in negotiations to sign the 32-year-old who in 2023 has rediscovered career-best form to help the Warriors sit third on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Ahead of facing the Warriors and his former Kiwis halves partner at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night, Marshall shared his admiration for Johnson and said he deserves to take home the game’s biggest individual honour this year.
“It’s no secret we tried to lure Shaun Johnson over the ditch… the way he is playing inside that team, I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win the Dally M,” Marshall said.
“Shaun has always been one of my favourite players to watch and when he gets criticised, at times I find it hard to hear, because it’s unfair a lot of the time.
“If you watch his game closely this year he is putting his body on the line defensively – I think he’s got 92 percent tackle efficiency – for a half that is phenomenal.
“He is definitely their go-to guy and that’s why we tried to sign him.
“The way he is going, and given the Warriors results, he will be a big chance [to win the Dally M Medal]. He would be the second Warrior ever to do it, it’d be awesome.”
At the time of Dally M Medal voting going behind closed doors after Round 12, Johnson sat eight points back from leader Payne Haas.
Since then he has played a key role in the Warriors winning seven of nine games, setting up 12 tries and scoring six himself.
Johnson heads into Round 24 trailing only Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater in terms of try assists with 22, while he leads the NRL in kick metres.
Marshall meanwhile said the Warriors’ rapid rise this season under rookie head coach Andrew Webster comes as little surprise to him, after he experienced first-hand Webster’s style while he was an assistant coach at the Wests Tigers when Marshall was still playing.
“I’ve never seen a coach be able to talk and explain rugby league and put it in a way where players understand it [like he can], he has a knack,” Marshall said.
“I think you can see with the Warriors, the way they are playing with resilience, their defence is outstanding, all the little effort areas they are really good at and that’s Webby.
“To see what he has done with that team, it’s been a massive turnaround. I think when the Warriors are good rugby league in New Zealand is generally good.”
Read more on https://www.nrl.com/news/2023/08/11/surprised-if-he-doesnt-win-marshall-backs-sj-for-dally-m/