WESTS TIGERS halfback Benji Marshall is confident he will be cleared to play in next Saturday night's final-round clash with Melbourne after being placed on report in yesterday's loss to Sydney Roosters - which has left his team on the brink of missing out on the finals.
The hopes of the Tigers are now out of their hands, after they slipped to ninth on the ladder, while Marshall's prospects of playing against the Storm now rest with the match review committee, after a hit on Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the second half.
The loss of Marshall would be catastrophic, leaving the Tigers without their first and second-choice leaders, as well as their two key playmakers, coming after the broken hand suffered by club captain Robbie Farah.
Marshall said he would be shattered if he missed the chance to play against Melbourne, although he doesn't expect to be absent.
''I'm pretty confident,'' he said. ''I didn't think there was much in it, to tell you the truth.
''I thought he was going to get the ball, so I just went in to try and get him. I didn't think it was bad. I don't think I even hit his head. I'll see what happens, but geez, fingers crossed. He [Waerea-Hargreaves] said it was sweet. If they need any evidence, they can ask him. He was all right.''
The match review committee will scrutinise the 66th-minute hit, which came in the lead-up to fullback Anthony Minichiello's try. Minichiello was only playing yesterday after controversially beating a striking charge at the NRL judiciary last Wednesday night following a hit on Canberra's Josh Dugan.
As a result, the ARL Commission instructed the match review committee to use the dangerous contact charge in similar instances in the future, and the panel might consider handing Marshall that charge.
But not if Waerea-Hargreaves has anything to do with it - the Roosters enforcer was adamant that Marshall should not be suspended for the off-the-ball hit.
''Absolutely not,'' he said. ''I don't see anything wrong with it. It sort of hit me in the chest and slid up. It wasn't bad at all.
''I was a bit rattled, but it was all right, we ended up scoring a try, and we ended up coming away with the win. I spoke to him when I got up, and I said: 'You're sweet'. He said: 'You're all right?' I said: 'Nothing wrong with it.'
''Nothing to worry about. I didn't really expect it from him, but that's footy - it's a contact sport.''
The pair spoke after the game, with Waerea-Hargreaves making it clear there was no animosity between them.
''We live around the corner from each other so we were talking about going for coffee soon,'' he said.
The Tigers are now realistically the only team outside the top eight who could scrape into the finals during the final round.
However, they would need to defeat Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval next Saturday night, then rely on Brisbane or Canberra to stumble. The Broncos play Penrith at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, while the Raiders face the hopelessly out-of-form Warriors on Sunday in Auckland.
Tigers coach Tim Sheens said he was not even considering the logistics of their battle.
''Right at the moment, we're not thinking past just getting through, seeing where everybody's at,'' he said.
''There's still another game to play, but right at the moment, we're no chance of beating Melbourne unless we turn that around 300 per cent. We've got a lot of work to do this week.''
The Tigers turned in a poor first-half performance from which they were unable to rescue themselves.
''Was there a mistake we didn't make?'' Sheens asked.
''Everybody contributed as well. It wasn't a lack of trying. Blokes were trying, trying too hard.''
Marshall added: ''We dropped almost every ball I can think of. We had all the possession early, and then after the first 10 minutes, I don't remember having the ball for the rest of the first half … we couldn't find a way to stop it.
''At this point of the season, we needed to stop it, because we needed to win.''
But as he did with his own individual battle, he remained confident.
''I've got a belief in our team that we're good enough,'' Marshall said. ''Melbourne's going to be a completely different proposition next week, and we're going to have to pull ourselves together and stick together as a team and, no matter what happens with the rest of the comp, we have to win, simple as that.''
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 44 (D Tupou 3 S Kenny-Dowall A Minichiello T Moga F Nuuausala M Pearce tries B Anasta 6 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 20 (B Ayshford C Heighington M Koroibete B Murdoch-Masila tries B Marshall 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Adam Devcich, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 15,736.