AN EMOTIONAL Benji Marshall has opened up on his rollercoaster rugby league career and the return “home” to Wests Tigers, while revealing the one regret that still haunts him.
The 32-year-old club favourite has moved back to Leichhardt, four years after walking away from the game for a controversial move to rugby.
He told 20FOUR he cried when Tigers coach Ivan Cleary agreed to bring him onto the books and complete his remarkable full-circle, which has seen him play for the Auckland Blues, St George Illawarra, and Brisbane in the four years since last wearing the orange and black.
He played 201 games for the Tigers and led the club to a premiership in 2005.
“I cried, I’m not going to lie. I got very emotional when I thought about what it would be like to come back,” Marshall told 20FOUR.
“This is the first time I’ve been back since I signed and I still get goosebumps. I’ve got a lot of memories that go through my head.
“People sitting on rooftops of the houses watching … the amount of attention you get walking through the gates from the fans, the same people who are in the same place every week. It’s crazy.”
But Marshall’s memories from Leichhardt are not all rosy.
In fact he admits he felt “angry” towards the end of his previous stint with the Tigers, which ended in him walking out on his contract to join Super Rugby in a shock defection.
Marshall is believed to have been unhappy at the Tigers not offering him a contract upgrade as the club looked to blood emerging playmakers Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.
“2013 for some reason was just ugly on and off the field … it’s probably one that I’d rather forget to be fair,” Marshall said.
“When you’re not wanted, how do you stay? That was the hard part for me.
“I definitely felt mistreated at the time, I was angry there for a bit.
“Just the feel of not being wanted when you’ve been there for so long, and the feel of not feeling like a family after it felt like a family for so long is what hurt me the most.”
Marshall also revealed his biggest regret — joining the Auckland Blues to try his hand at rugby.
The experiment lasted barely six months before Marshall quit the game to return to the NRL with the Dragons.
I don’t regret many things, but (I do regret) that whole Auckland Blues saga,” he said.
“I feel like I let the fans down in that department. Because I was a part of the Tigers family I didn’t want to play for any other rugby league teams, so I felt like union was my only option at the time.
“I felt like I wasn’t up to the standard at the time … the (Auckland) coach came up to me and said it’s not working out the way we wanted it to … if you want to go back to league here’s your opportunity.”
Marshall is under no illusion he’ll return to full-time first grade next year with the Tigers.
He played most of the 2017 season in Broncos’ reserve grade side, although did look impressive when he stepped up to help out the NRL side at times.
He knows he probably won’t be in Cleary’s best starting 17, as Brooks and recruit Josh Reynolds occupy the halves positions.
But after a conversation with coach Cleary, Marshall is confident he can help the club in other ways.
Marshall was offered a contract by Brisbane for next year but decided to get in contact with Cleary to ask if the Tigers could offer him a deal.
“(Cleary) said yep, no worries, as long as you know that when you come here I’ve got Brooksy playing halfback and Josh Reynolds playing five-eighth … it could be a similar role to the one you’re playing at Brisbane,” Marshall said.
“I said I don’t care, I know what I can do at training. I explained to him how I thought I could help the club and the effect I could have.
“All the things I said to him must have had hit home because he made a decision pretty quick smart that he wanted me to be a part of those plans going forward.
“We didn’t talk about money … I said if you’re happy I’m happy, and we shook hands pretty much there and then.”