The Benji Legacy
You watch some players and wish they never aged and could play on forever. Players that are unique from their peers that they electrify, amaze and reinvent the way the game is played. A once-in-a-generation player.
Yes, as a diehard Tigers fan i am extremely biased and unashamedly so. The 1000’s of kids attempting the Benji jump sidestep were and still are proof of his influence on the game.
From the skinny kid who made his debut for the Tim Sheens’ Tigers in 2003, he has had an amazing career which has taken him to unbelievable highs and some challenging lows. At the peak of his career he was a sensation a natural born talent, a freak. The best in the game.
Marshall was signed by the Tigers out of Keebra Park high school a breeding ground for future NRL players. Even as a teen he had big raps on him, his unique stepping ability and off the cuff playing style had many teams chasing his signature.
It wasn’t until late 2003 Tigers fans got their first glimpses of Benji. There was enough displayed in those few games to get the Tigers faithful excited. However, None could imagine just how good this kid would be.
It was at the 2004 pre-season sevens that the rugby league world first noticed Marshall. The Tigers won that year’s sevens tournament and a star was born. His jig jag and high step side step was something never seen before.
Finally the Tigers had hope. The joint venture still only in its early years had been disappointing in the seasons leading up to 2005. They had improved in 2004 after the sevens win but were hampered by injury to Benji. After injuries to his shoulders in 2004 and early 2005 some questioned if his body would hold up to the toughness of NRL.
Under Tim Sheens young players Benji now recovered from injury, Robbie Farah, Liam Fulton and a handfull of experienced players and cast offs, players like Brett Hodgson, John Skandallis, Scott Prince the Tigers stunned all by winning the 2005 season.
Marshall will be immortalised by the flick pass to Pat Richards in the 2005 Grand Final yet some other plays defied belief such as a game against Cronulla is the premiership year of 2005.
Playing at Shark Park, Marshall stepped passed half the team and then threw a no look 20 metre pass to set up a try to Daniel Fitzhenry. Look it up on YouTube absolutely amazing.
Unfortunately, after the high of 2005 the Tigers never met their obvious potential. Missing semi final football until the 2010 season. At the end of 2010 Marshall would also lead New Zealand to Four Nations victory and cap it off as being named the Golden Boot as best player in Rugby League.
Kids in parks and schools imitated Benji’s trademark side step. His peers attempted and most failed to emulate his trickery. A man at the top of his game. Declaring he could not see himself playing for another team other than the Tigers.
Amazingly Benji’s career took its own massive side step. In the middle of the 2013 Marshall left he the game and his beloved Tigers after a falling out with head coach Mick Potter. Breaking the hearts of the Tigers faithful.
After 201 club appearances, a World Cup Winner, a Four Nations winner, a Premiership winner and a Golden Boot winner, Marshall signed with Super Rugby franchise the Auckland Blues.
At the time Marshall stated that if he was to return to Rugby League it would be with the Wests Tigers. As already stated I am a Tigers fan and hoped his Rugby Career would be short. Tigers fans got their wish Marshall’s Rugby adventure was short but unfortunately it didn’t go to plan.
Marshall did not set the rugby world on fire and he was released from his contract after playing little game time in his six-game career. To the disbelief of Tigers fans, Marshall signed with the St George Dragons. Their he would play 54 games over near three seasons never reaching team or personal highs.
After a stint as a back up player for the Broncos playing under the Master Coach Wayne Bennett, Marshall returned home to the Tigers in 2018. Maybe a little slower since he last wore Tigers colours he was a lot smarter. Marshall was superb in 2018 for the Tigers having a calming influence on the side and in particular halves partner Luke Brooks.
What role Benji will have in new coach Michael McGuire’s side is yet to be seen. Whatever 2019 holds for Benji Marshallit will not have a bearing on the legacy he will leave. At one time the best player in the world with daylight second. He lit up the game and was amazing to watch at the peak of his powers.
Players today show glimpses of Benji in their playing style. No one more than current superstar Newcastle KnightsKalyn Ponga. Like Benji before him Ponga is unique. He has that special something that every time he touches the ball anything could happen and usually does. He too is a once-in-a-generation player.
Let’s hope the Tigers have a sensational year and that Benji is at the forefront leading his young team to another Premiership along side long time team mate Robbie Farah.
Thanks for the memories Benji! Let’s do it one more time in 2019!
What is your favourite Benji moment?