Marshall law puts Tigers in hunt
BENJI Marshall believes he is contributing more in his second stint at Wests Tigers than during the side-stepping, flick-passing days that made him the face of the NRL.
Marshall returned to the Tigers this year on a contract worth a fraction of what he had previously earned at the club. He returned as a back-up to incumbent halfback Luke Brooks and big-money signing Josh Reynolds, but injuries to the latter gave the 33-year-old an unexpected chance in the starting side.
It’s an opportunity Marshall has embraced. The flamboyant plays that excited and frustrated GETTY IMAGES coaches in equal measure have made way for a more mature approach. The flicks and chipkicks are gone, replaced by a more measured kicking game, genuine leadership qualities and – perhaps most importantly – a greater understanding of the game and his role in it.
It’s why the former Kiwis international believes he is more valuable to the joint-venture outfit now than at any other time, including the premiership year of 2005.
‘‘Coming back here, they’ve embraced me to play how I play,’’ Marshall said.
‘‘Sure, it’s not like it was in ‘05 or ‘08. I feel like I’m contributing more now than I did back then. I was doing one-off things back then. In terms of a whole 80-minute game, I feel like I’m contributing more now.’’
Given everything Marshall has achieved during a stellar 277-game NRL career, it is a big call. However, it is difficult to argue after witnessing Marshall guide the Tigers into a share of fourth spot. Perhaps his greatest achievement this season is bringing out the best in Brooks, who appears more at ease alongside his new halves partner.
‘‘I feel like I contribute more in terms of helping Brooksy relax, building pressure,’’ he explained.
‘‘I never used to think about building pressure. I just wanted to score all the time. At the Dragons they wanted me to play a role like Cooper Cronk, which I found hard to play. At Brisbane Wayne [Bennett] said throw your game plan out the window and just have fun. That was the best advice I had. Just have fun and play how I play.’’
But the prodigal son feared he wouldn’t return, worried he could be forced into premature retirement because clubs considered him washed up.
‘‘I had my doubts,’’ he said. ‘‘Before I went to Brisbane I thought I was going to retire. I could have gone to England but I didn’t want to. You always have doubts, anyone who says they don’t doubt are lying. The one thing I’ve always had is determination and want to be the best. Coming back here I told [coach] Ivan [Cleary] that I wanted to contribute on the field. I didn’t care about the money, I just wanted to play. I said bring me back here and I’ll prove you right.’’
Pressed on the retirement prospect, Marshall conceded: ‘‘I don’t know. I wouldn’t have let myself but there was a chance it was looking like it, without anywhere to go.
‘‘I was still confident even if I didn’t sign with anyone that during the pre-season something would’ve happened and someone would’ve needed someone. I made the call to Wayne for advice and he said ‘why don’t you come play for me’.
‘‘I didn’t even think of it. I asked him where and he said you can back up my halves, or we will train you at centre. Maybe fullback. Just come here and have some fun and I’ll get the old Benji back. I said sweet.’’
It has become apparent that there is still plenty of good football in the veteran. Speculation has already begun over whether he should play on for the Tigers next year, but Marshall isn’t entertaining it. At least not yet.
‘‘If I’m playing well enough and my body is feeling great, hopefully they will come to me. If it’s not, it’s not. I’ll make sure we go out playing semifinal footy.’’ The Sun-Herald
Veteran Benji Marshall has the Tigers purring.