Benji Marshall’s extraordinary role in Wests Tigers undefeated start to 2018 NRL season
March 18, 2018 3:00am
Source: FOX SPORTS
IVAN Cleary forked out top-dollar to lure Josh Reynolds to the Wests Tigers in 2018 but two games in and the former Bulldog may no longer be the best five-eighth in the club.
Saved from the rugby league scrapheap with a minimum wage deal that owed more to marketing than any on-field expectations for the second year in succession, Benji Marshall has finally completed the transformation from precocious talent to trusted executioner of a game plan.
Without Marshall at his disposal a hamstring injury to Josh Reynolds on the eve of Round 1 may have resulted in consecutive losses for Cleary to two premiership fancies but instead the Wests Tigers are one of only four undefeated teams courtesy of two last-ditch wins.
For the second week in a row Cleary’s collection of hardened discards and youngsters were reduced to 12 men for 10 minutes and came back late to clinch an unlikely win, Luke Brooks pouncing on a Ben Matulino offload to score with two minutes left of the clock to defeat the Storm 10-8.
It was while Brooks was in the sin bin in Round 1 against the Roosters that Marshall came to the fore and he again provided the calming influence against a Melbourne team desperate to win in honour of Billy Slater’s 300th game.
Instead it was Marshall’s towering spiral bombs that terrorised the Storm’s champion fullback and winger Suliasi Vunivalu and instigated an error count the likes of which Melbourne haven’t seen for more than five years.
When Marshall left the Tigers at the end of the 2013 season it seemed inconceivable that he would ever play for the club again but after stints with the Dragons and Broncos — and a short-lived flirtation with rugby union — he is back playing a more important role than when he partnered Scott Prince at the height of his powers more than a decade ago.
And it’s going to result in the best reason for a selection headache for Cleary when Reynolds is available for selection in the coming weeks.
“Benji played a little bit of a role for the Broncos last year and I thought with Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks there I was wondering how Benji was going to fit himself into the team,” former Panthers premiership winner Greg Alexander said in commentary with Fox League.
“The Reynolds injury, he comes in and he’s making a case that Josh Reynolds does come off the bench.
“Last week against the Roosters when they were down to 12 men he slowed things down and put the ball into touch, just soaked up enough time until they got their player back.
“Again, he showed the leader that he is.”
Queensland coach Kevin Walters believes that while ever the Tigers are winning and Marshall is performing the way that he has in the first two rounds of the season that the 33-year-old has to remain part of the starting side.
“You don’t need to fix anything if it’s not broken,” Walters said.
“I thought his game management, he showed that cool head that only Benji Marshall has.
“He kicked the ball out when the ball needed to go into touch to give his younger side a rest and when he wanted to keep the ball in play he put a spiral (bomb) up.
“It was great game management from Benji Marshall that only Benji Marshall can do.
“He’s got to stay there, and what a great guy to have around the team.
“He just looks like he’s got his fingerprints all over it.”
Five years after his departure Marshall himself is simply happy to be contributing again to the club with which he won a premiership in 2005 but just like the old days, wants to make the Wests Tigers No.6 jersey his own.
“I’m just enjoying being back in this No.6 jersey and I’m going to give my all every week to try and stay in it. If that happens I’ll be pretty happy,” Marshall told Fox League after his side’s 10-8 win over the Storm on Saturday night.
“It’s something that I didn’t think was going to happen.
“I thought my career was coming to an end so to get this opportunity is a dream come true for me.
“Honestly I haven’t felt better in this jersey and feel very passionate about it.
“On the field I feel like I’m taking a bit of a leadership role in helping control a few of the young lads and just enjoying it again.”