Mar­shall law puts Tigers in hunt

Sunday News - - LEAGUE - ADRIAN PROSZENKO

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.

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