The NRL finals have arrived, which means the spotlight shines brighter than ever on the game’s biggest stars.
But Wests Tigers’ superstar Benji Marshall wouldn’t have it any other way, with the five-eighth revealing he loves the high-pressure situations on offer on the biggest stage.
Ahead of Friday night’s huge match-up with premiers St George Illawarra, where a crowd in excess of 60,000 is in the offing, the reigning Golden Boot winner said it was his time to fire.
“Everyone wants to stand up in the semi-finals, this is why you play the game … you want to be in front of the big stage playing in front of a big crowd and not let your teammates down,” Marshall told reporters on Monday.
"And I think if there’s anything I’ll be doing this week, I’ll be making sure I don’t let my teammates down.
"I won’t say I don’t like (the big stage).
"I enjoy it, it puts more pressure on you to have to do well and, when there’s a bigger atmosphere, it really pumps you up a bit more and makes you more excited, so I’m looking forward to it and I know my team is.
“I know we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure we don’t have a repeat of last year (where the Tigers lost to Sydney Roosters in week one of the finals).”
With his flashy sidestep, no look passes, dashing long-range tries and unpredictable off-the-cuff plays all on display in 2011, Marshall has cemented himself as the game’s most exciting player.
But the man who seems destined to add a Dally M medal to his long list of accolades on Tuesday night says he has tried hard to focus on parts of his game that won’t make the highlight reel.
“I suppose this season I’ve really tried to take a lot more calculated risks, not the ‘off the top of my head’ risks like I used to,” the 26-year-old continued.
"I suppose that’s part of growing up as a player.
“… I can’t change the way I play, that would just be stupid, but I’ve got to keep doing what I do and what’s made me the player I am today - and that’s playing what I see and take calculated risks.”
In a further boost for the high-flying Tigers, star centre Chris Lawrence is expected to return from injury to renew his lethal left-edge combination with winger Lote Tuqiri.
Lawrence has not played since injuring his hamstring while setting up the match-winning try in the Tigers’ 16-14 win over the Dragons in round 22, but he ran on Monday in a bid to prove his fitness ahead of the crucial clash.
“That would be nice (to have him back),” Tuqiri told reporters on Monday.
"He’s been running out here today, (but) hamstrings are notorious for redoing them if you come back too early and I think he’s pretty wary about that.
"But it is a big game. I think he’s got to fight with the feeling of wanting to come back and obviously playing in a big game, and listening to what his body tells him as well.
“It’s going to be touch and go but, hopefully, he can be out there because he’s certainly an X-factor player for us and he showed that the last time we played against Saints when he set up that winning try.”