I have just spent the last twenty minutes trying to figure out how to start off this little piece on Benji’s career. Before I get too deep into this piece, let me tell you how I came to love Rugby League.
State Of Origin is what truly brought me to the game of NRL. The first time I remember watching a game was in 1992, at the age of 5. But outside of Origin, the only other game that I would watch was the grand final each year.
By coincidence, the first ever Tigers game I watched from start to finish was Benji Marshall’s debut game. I couldn’t help but be impressed by him. Fast, exciting, and dangerous. The next game that sits out in my memory was the Round 17 clash in 2005, watching Scott Prince and Benji tear the Sea Eagles to shreds. I remember saying to my brother at the time “The Tigers will make the Grand Final if they continue playing like this”. And they did. I’m sure I don’t need to re-hash the 2005 GF for all you passionate supporters, as we all know how special it was.
Time went on, and we saw Benji incur injury after injury. But he was still as exciting as ever to watch. The no look passes continued to be thrown, the line breaks were often phenomenal and the Tigers continued that exciting style of play that was as often scary as it was brilliant.
I mark the 2010 Qualifying Final against the Roosters as the best game of regular season NRL that I’ve ever watched. For me, that one game sums up the Wests Tigers under Benji’s guidance. Risky, edge of your seat, heart attack type footy. I always wonder what the outcome of that game would have been if Benji had stayed on the field. But I also mark this game as the start of Benji’s decline.
In 2011, we started to see Sheens try and coach the unpredictability out of Benji’s game, which in my own opinion was a mistake. The thing about Benji is that he was never going to be a Darren Lockyer or Andrew Johns in terms of his game structure. He wasn’t the same kind of half and his play style for better or worse wasn’t one that supported structured play in the same was as it suited the aforementioned halves. It’s why Robert Lui’s combination with Benji was so good for us, and is working so well for the Cowboys at the moment with JT. Lui let Benji be the dominant half and run his own game, injecting himself only when needed and taking the kick pressure off Benji at the end of sets. To be clear, I’m not saying that the Tigers should have kept Lui by any means and I fully support the club’s decision to this day after his actions.
Last year was the start of the demise of Benji’s threat and dominance. The media in general had come to expect big things from Benji, and I’m sure we all remember the Tigers being talked up as Grand Finalists at the start of the year.We saw even less of the unpredictable play from Benji, and more of the play of a traditional half. Not only was he lacking form, but he had lost his speed that had made him such a threat early in his career. This was never more evident than the game late last year against the Cowboys where Benji was chased down after making a line break by none other than James Tamou.
This year was always going to be a hard one for the Wests Tigers. Losing key members of our forward pack, having a new halves pairing (again) and a new coach all pointed towards an uphill battle, but we all stayed confident and faithful in the team. Then the contract talks started, along with the speculation.
I’m not saying that Benji isn’t to blame, but I do believe that Benji has listened to some very bad advice from people close to him. For the longest of time, the people close to Benji boosted him up on a pedestal and shielding him from criticism. And no particular one person is to blame. When all the people close to you tell you that you’re worth $1 million a season, and you’ve never really had anyone telling you that you’re not until then, why wouldn’t you believe them?
This year, the four BWTF admins went to the Wests Tigers game against the Broncos. Leading into the game, the Broncos had been in poor form, and we ended up playing them back into a bit of form. Benji just seemed absent for parts of the game, and it seemed that whenever he did kick on the last, it found a player. Errors and missed tackles were evident in his game. It was then and there that pretty much all four of us stated that he just wasn’t worth his new asking price. We were however split on whether he should stay or go.
The ‘Benji Marshall Show’ of the last three months has been hard to endure. You would be forgiven for getting incredibly frustrated or even angry with him. Especially after sitting through moments like the footy show interview and the incredibly poorly timed Auckland Blues signing video. For me, herein lies the tragedy of the downfall of Benji Marshall. It’s unfortunate that he has such a decline in form. At times he seems uninterested, but at other times I genuinely believe that he has tried his hardest and has still come up short. It has been clear to me that despite some of the silly things he has done, he still loves the Wests Tigers. If you saw his reaction at the presentation on Friday night, I think you’d agree with me.
I do genuinely believe that it is in the best interest for all parties concerned that Benji has chosen to move on. Sure, it may not have been played out as well as it could have been, but by choosing not to put Benji on a 4 year, multi million dollar deal, we have been able to secure some real talent at the club. It won’t be immediately better next year, so don’t be expecting a top eight finish. The Tiger Cubs will need time, and a patient coach and board. With Grant Mayer at the helm of the club, I am also far more content with the future of the club as a whole than I have been for a long time.
The reality is that it will be weird to watch the Tigers run out next year without Benji. He has been such an integral part of the team for so long, and as he leaves, I think the Wests Tigers play style of old may also go with him. It’s an exciting new era for the club, but Benji has provided us as fans with many great memories over the years. Despite how the downfall of Benji has played out, we can’t dismiss the highlights of his career. He has given the fans so much to cheer (and scream) about over the years, and no doubt will be missed by many in the years to come.
So I would like to say thanks to Benji Marshall. It’s been a hell of a ride, but just like all other good things, it has come to an end. I wish him all the best in the years to come.
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