Decent article from todays SMH
Benji Marshall is again the face of the NRL. No longer on a ‘‘wanted’’ poster, he is merely wanted on a poster. Just in the nick of time.
An old genie has poked its battered head out of the rugby league bottle. After the Battle of Brookvale, some with a blithe disregard for the broader ramifications celebrated the violent mayhem. Such brutality, they muttered, was merely the natural consequence of a tough game played by hard men. The biff and bash was ‘‘what the people came to see’’.
It is an argument that not only exploits the lowest instincts of those fans titillated by the violence, but also insults the very players it intends to glorify. It suggests that the real entertainers are not those who maintain discipline while withstanding a brutal onslaught, but the few who buckle under the physical pressure and resort to cheap shots and cowardly retaliation.
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Then Benji Marshall trotted out at Campbelltown on Monday night and reminded the neanderthal fringe what the fans really come to see. Astonishing lateral movement, amazing peripheral vision, lightning hands, a deft boot and full-throttle acceleration that, in the first half hour particularly, made the bamboozled Titans defenders look like they were groping around for a box of matches during a blackout.
As he glides about, Marshall can make space where there should be none. Against the flat and unmotivated Titans, he turned a crowded field his own playground.
With the stage cleared, it was often only a matter of which arrow Marshall would pull from his bulging quiver. Would he dart or step or float about until flicking a pass just beyond the despairing grasp of the defence? You cannot downplay the protective role of the oft-maligned Tigers’ forwards, or the strong support provided by his fellow backs. But at certain moments Marshall makes even his teammates vanish, such is his ability to command the spotlight.
Yet, oddly, what made Marshall’s performance even more entertaining - to anyone outside the coaching box - was its flaws. On a night when Tim Sheens would no doubt have preferred his team to hold the ball, edge their way forward and soberly rehearse their ‘‘semi-finals football’’, Marshall pushed the limits of his sublime talent. Several times, including one try-conceding interception, he went beyond breaking point.
Perhaps a few days in court makes a man who relishes the open spaces appreciate his freedom. ‘‘I just wanted to get back to playing footy,’’ Marshall said. His type of footy. Not the type bound by the claustrophobic realities of ‘‘team structure’’.
You wonder how Sheens reacted to Marshall’s audacious performance. After a season plagued by injury, and during which team harmony was threatened by the sacrifice of popular veterans, the intimate relationship between superstar five-eighth and veteran coach is another intriguing aspect of the Tigers’ run to September.
After his court case, Marshall light-heartedly lamented that Sheens had not allowed his teammates to sit in court to support him. After Marshall had auditioned for Dancing With The Stars during a twinkle-toed display against the Titans, Sheens complained that two of his stunning breaks had ‘‘come to nothing’’.
Cheeky son testing the boundaries? A fatherly figure doling out tough love? Regardless of the fundamentals of their relationship, the chemistry between Marshall and Sheens seems mutually beneficial. And, for all his obvious efforts to rein Marshall in, you suspect even Sheens sneaks the occasional awe-struck glance at the playmaker’s highlights reel.
After listing a string of Marshall’s ‘‘issues’’ on Monday night, the coach allowed: ‘‘I’m a bit too hard. I forget I used to drop a ball and miss a tackle once myself.’’
Whether Marshall set up another try, or ran one step too far, every time he touched the ball the crowd was out of their seats. This time with smiles on their faces and joyous roars in their throats. Not the bloodthirsty snarls that accompanied the Battle of Brookvale.