It’s the 2005 Grand Final, and 20 year old Benjamin Marshall is racing down the sideline with defenders coming at him. As the Cowboy’s Matt Bowen closes in on him, Marshall knows it’s time to relinquish possession to team mate Pat Richards on the inside.
Flick pass…Coach Tim Sheen’s heart stops for 0.1 of a second… then kick starts rapidly as Richards grasps the pass that could have easily rendered Sheens deceased, and goes on to give the Tigers the lead in the Grand Final that the joint venture club would go on to win emphatically.
No coaches died, but a legend was born.
Key players from that Tigers side went on to serve illustrious careers; Halfback Scott Prince captained the Gold Coast Titans in their inaugural season and showed form that earned him a QLD jersey the following year in 2008 and captained the side to their first finals appearance in 2010.
Hooker Robbie Farah has since cemented himself as the first choice NSW hooker and has 8 Origin games to his name along with 7 test appearances for the Kangaroos.
The 6ft 4in. winger Pat Richards flew straight on to Wigan to play over 200 games in the English Super League and notch up just under 2500 points. Richards is now playing back on that Wests Tigers left wing today.
Now is the part where some of you are expecting me to write about how Marshall’s career didn’t advance as well as the others, but that isn’t the case. A young Benji grew into a mature Benji and kept his individual brilliance alive week in, week out.
The legend grew.
Kids were in their backyards scoring tries and commentating themselves in the process like most grown adults do when ‘putting to win the Masters.’
Even those said adults were heading into hairdresser’s stores asking to have their haircuts resemble that of Benji Marshall’s.
Life was pretty peachy for Marshall but for a few injuries that kept him out of the game here and there.
A lot of his career was played as a halfback despite wearing the number 6 on his back and when Marshall applied his running game on the edges of the ruck, defenders found containing Benji tougher than drawing teeth.
The legend grew bigger.
It was becoming apparent in 2009 to Marshall that he was quite an influential player. When he spoke, people listened. When he side stepped and goose stepped, people stood up and watched. Women and children still screamed for Benji Marshall, but in the background, the voices that spoke the loudest in Marshall’s head were the ones pointing out that 2009 was the fourth straight year that Marshall and the Tigers had failed to make a finals appearance in the NRL.
Marshall’s fans blamed Tim Sheens. Others blamed Marshall.
Roll on 2010 and the pressure and criticism from 2009 has awoken Marshall from his performance lull and before you know it, the Benji Marshall legend is alive and healthy once again.
Marshall captains New Zealand in the ANZAC test that year, captains the Tigers to the preliminary final and wins none other than the Golden Boot award, rating him as arguably the world’s best player.
Life’s pretty peachy once more for Benji Marshall; the legend has been resurrected, his footy was doing the talking whilst the critics weren’t.
But there were two ‘events’ in Benji Marshall’s career that may have turned the boy from Whakatane towards the mirror and made him believe that hard work was no longer required.
Later in 2010 when there was ‘nothing Marshall couldn’t do’ as Phil Gould put it, we found out there was one more thing; a 51 metre field goal. It wasn’t so much the field goal that was the turning points. Hell, what’s 1 point out of 1118 of them throughout his career? Rather, it was the endless bleating from the press that wouldn’t cease to point out how invincible Marshall was.
Don’t get me wrong, Marshall earned the plaudits, but those once critics who were now shouting his praises had Marshall believing all the hard work was done. Marshall was starting to rest on his laurels.
The second ‘event’ was Marshall being chosen by then NRL CEO David Gallop to represent our great game as the ‘Face of the NRL.’
In his mind, Marshall could now do anything. From flick passes to fights outside McDonalds at 3am, Marshall was confident he knew what he was doing and the legend grew more…inside his head.
This confidence had Marshall on the front foot and ultimately it lead to a fall out with Coach Tim Sheens when Benji and Robbie, as thick as thieves decided they were entitled to coach the side and make certain demands.
It was an unhealthy situation for Marshall and the Tigers alike but Marshall was determined to play it cool in front of the media and on The Footy Show on a regular basis. Suddenly he was neglecting his footy, just a tad.
But why should he worry? Marshall knew he had recently brushed off pressure to lead his side to a prelim final; he could do it again right? At the time I was one of many who backed him to do so, but he forgot one important element. Hard work.
But the man in the mirror continued to speak to him;
“You’re Benji Marshall, you can solve any problem with a flick pass or a 51 metre field goal.”
So Marshall reached into his bag of tricks once more, this time during the 2011 semi final against the Warriors.
Firstly, with the Tigers 6-0 up, Marshall applies his trademark right foot step and crosses the line to take his side 12-0 up. What a confidence booster!
Fast forward to the final few minutes and the Tigers are up by 2 points and have possession in the Warriors’ half of the field. All that’s needed is a kick to the Warrior’s line and one set of defence with the Warriors to attempt scaling the length of the field to win.
But Marshall, with the ball in hand, sees an opportunity to grow the legend of Benji even more, and attempts to set up a try with a grubber.
Did this just happen?
Defence in good field position is all that’s required for the Wests Tigers to advance to a 2nd consecutive preliminary final, and Marshall wants another try on the board? One must question if he indeed did it for his own benefit to simply show off in front of the 27,000 people in the crowd.
As a result, the Warriors collect the ball, advance a short distance down field and score the match winning try. The Tigers have not made the finals since.
Current Sharks prop Andrew Fifita spoke out at the beginning of 2012 after leaving the Tigers stating that he was sick of the side being separated into factions, where if you weren’t a big name player, you weren’t treated like one. Make of that comment what you will.
In 2013, Marshall and his manager entered contract negotiations with the Tigers, and the two of them were hell bent on getting Marshall’s remaining two years at the club extended to four years and have the deal bolstered by 3rd party bonuses. The ego spilled over in this situation and team Marshall went into talks convinced that Benji would get his four years. When he didn’t get his way, Marshall threw his toys out of his Tigers’ cot and went and had a snooze in the Auckland Blues’ bed. A shoddy youtube video of Marshall in a Blues jersey was lame attempt at sticking the forks up at the NRL and pretending he was stoked about where he was heading.
Marshall had gone from flick passing, to flicking Tim Sheens from the Tigers to being flicked from the Tigers himself.
But that’s no problem for Benji Marshall! The answer was to simply move to Rugby Union, rather than swallow his pride and play against the Tigers in the NRL. Hard work would have landed Marshall his sought after contract extension, be it with the Tigers or a rival club, but he chose otherwise.
Marshall was convinced he’d simply step into an Auckland Blues jersey, cruise past some big cumbersome rah rah forwards and acquire an All Blacks jersey on the way. Unless he bought himself a duty free All Blacks jersey at Auckland airport, he still doesn’t have one.
‘This isn’t working out Benji.’
6 appearances with the Blues and he’s suddenly realised that his ego had bitten off more than it could chew. His confidence has now turned to timidness.
Now Marshall looks to the future and 99% of people believe he intends to make a dazzling comeback to the NRL and go from there. But I wonder if he simply plans on using an NRL comeback as a stepping stone towards a media career post retirement?
Marshall arrived back in Sydney just before ANZAC day and stated to media that ‘It’s good to be back and to sort out the next chapter in my career.”
Are you talking about playing or commentating Benji?
“I still feel I’ve got a good football brain for the NRL.”
Is that a good football brain for playing NRL or commentating Benji?
“I’ve got a bit of hunger and desire back.”
Just enough hunger to play your way into a commentating job?
“I feel I need to play again and the rest can take care of itself.”
By ‘the rest’ do you mean media aspirations?
“Watching all the (NRL) games from the start of the season, I was commentating as I watched them.”
That sounds like the biggest hint of them all!
If Marshall’s ego got him to this point in his career, I like to think that his Rugby Union experience, as short as it was, helped him rein it in. Perhaps he realises now that it was hard work that made him a legend, and not talent alone.
“I’m happy with what I got out of being with the Blues,” Marshall said.
“Obviously it didn’t work out on the field but off the field – and I’d like to thank the boys in the team for part of this – not only did I find myself again, but I found hunger and I got fit, got motivated.”