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Sharks duo to test Benji return
Benji Marshall's bid to play in next month's Centenary Test is expected to face the ultimate examination Sunday when the returning Wests Tigers NRL star comes up against Cronulla bash brothers Paul Gallen and Greg Bird.
The Sharks representative duo have made no secret of their mission to target the Kiwis five-eighth in defence at Toyota Park with Marshall set to play his first game in six weeks since being sidelined by a knee injury.
"We will be targeting everyone, but I think he will be on my side of the field and if me and Birdy get the opportunity we will be running at him," said Sharks captain Gallen, himself returning to the NRL after a three-week suspension for raking the face of Gold Coast backrower Anthony Laffranchi.
"Benji is obviously going to be a big plus for them.
"He will give them a lot of confidence and a lot of attack and he is someone we will certainly be targeting."
Marshall is expected to be named as New Zealand No.6 for the May 9 Test against Australia provided he gets through the next two weeks of the NRL.
While the Kangaroos team will be named Sunday, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney will wait until the following Sunday before announcing his squad, giving the injury-plagued Marshall an extra game - against Brisbane and their star Test pivot Darren Lockyer next weekend - to prove his fitness.
Former Kiwis halfback great Stacey Jones this week urged selectors to not pick Marshall for the Test and save him for the World Cup at the end of the year. But both Kearney and Marshall himself have insisted the playmaker will be picked if fit.
Despite missing the past three weeks through suspension, Gallen is a strong tip to be named in Australia's side when the team is announced at Toyota Park after the match.
Gallen was picked to make his Test debut in last year's October Test against the Kiwis, but was forced to withdraw through injury.
Bird is also a likely Test selection. But with Lockyer making a successful return from injury on Friday night, he is more likely to be named at lock after impressing at five-eighth for Australia last October.
"I really enjoyed it last year and enjoyed playing there (at five-eighth) in Origin and Tests," Bird said.
"I thought I played my best football at that level. The responsibility of playing five-eighth with those blokes around me made me quite comfortable.
"I sort of play the same style of football whether I'm playing five-eighth or lock.
"I play where (Sharks and Australian coach) Ricky (Stuart) sees best for the team result."
The Tigers hold an impressive record against the Sharks in recent times.
They have won the previous eight meetings between the two clubs, and have not lost at Toyota Park since 2003.
Tigers fullback Brett Hodgson is expected to play despite being hampered by illness during the week.
But star hooker Robbie Farah (back injury) is unlikely to be a late inclusion.