Benji Marshall to return to field for Wests Tigers in trial against Cronulla Sharks
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Wests Tigers fans can mark down February 24 as the date Benji Marshall plays his first game for the club in 1631 days.
Marshall, the biggest-name player in the merged club’s 18-year-history, hasn’t played for the Tigers since leaving for Super Rugby club the Auckland Blues at the end of the 2013 season.
His on-field return for the Tigers will come a day before his 33rd birthday in their final NRL trial against Cronulla in Campbelltown.
Coach Ivan Cleary is aiming to ensure his new-look Tigers spend plenty of time together in their two pre-season trials.
A strong squad will be taken to Cairns for their February 17 trial against North Queensland, but Marshall will remain in Sydney alongside wife Zoe ahead of the expected birth of their first child.
Cleary then plans to roll out the Tigers’ top 17 for the majority of their last trial against the Sharks, just two weeks out from the season-opener.
“Benji won’t be playing in Cairns … The plan at this stage (is for Campbelltown),” Cleary said. "We’re looking like the first game in Cairns against the Cowboys there are a few guys who won’t be playing in that game…
“Anyone who can and it’s not really a risk in their preparation will play. I’m not about putting people in cotton wool but I’m not going to risk them either.”
Marshall’s influence off the field has already been pronounced during the pre- season as he has been able to lend a helping hand to the club’s younger brigade, including halfback Luke Brooks, given his experience.
Importantly though, he provides a link back to the club’s most successful era given his 11-year stint between 2003 and 2013 netted 201 games and the club’s only premiership as a merged entity in 2005 when he starred.
“From a Wests Tigers point of view, it’s really good to have that link to the past,” Cleary said.
"To have a guy who left the club really want to come back because he loves the club, that was really positive.
“He’s good to have around in many respects. His experience, knowledge and understanding of the game.”
But Cleary insists even with Brooks and Josh Reynolds as the club’s chief playmakers, Marshall’s biggest value will be on the field in the NRL.
“We wouldn’t have signed him if we didn’t think he could still play,” Cleary said. "He was really open and honest about that. He really felt like he had so much more to give on the field. He’s a world-class player and they don’t come along every day.
“There’s a few options around how we will use him. He’s definitely a big part of the plan for on-field performance.”