When you think of the most skilful players in rugby league history, Benji Marshall’s electric style of play is one of the first things that spring to mind.
His signature side-step, flick pass and brilliant kicking game made him simply unplayable at times. Whether it was carving open the defence with a sensational dummy or nailing a drop goal from 50 metres out, Marshall could come up with the right play to win any game.
Just look at the try he conjured up for Wests Tigers in the 2005 NRL Grand Final. His footwork took him around the North Queensland Cowboys defence before his flick pass sent Pat Richards away for an all important try as they went on to claim their most recent Premiership.
Meanwhile, he was at the heart of New Zealand’s shock World Cup success in 2008 at the expense of favourites Australia and was seen as one of the best, most exciting players in the NRL and perhaps the best player to watch in the competition.
Whilst Wests failed to add another Premiership to their name, Marshall continued to light up the league often linking up with former Leeds star Gareth Ellis and would go onto become one of the club’s all-time leading scorers after trying his hand at rugby union and linking up with Gareth Widdop at St George Illawarra Dragons before returning to the Tigers.
His career came to an end at Souths where he played a role in the Rabbitohs’ return to the Grand Final but he was unable to take them to glory against the Penrith Panthers.
However, despite the fact he’s never added to the 2005 title, he can still look back on an enviable career and will likely be remembered by all who saw him play for years on end.
However, his fantastic career very nearly didn’t happen with Marshalling revealing to Channel Nine in Australia that he was very nearly written off at the start of his career.
In a statement released by NRL on Nine’s Twitter account, Marshall reflected on his doubters and how he enjoyed a 19-year long career despite them: “Everyone told me that I was never going to make it, my steps were ugly, my flick passes were low percentage and next minute I am playing NRL for 19 years.
“It doesn’t matter what colour you are, where you are from, what your background is, how much money you’ve got. If you want to work hard enough and you want to dream big, go for it.”
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) December 17, 2021
It shouldn’t be surprising to see such a unique player written off at the start of his career, look at Rob Burrow at Leeds and how many people believed he wouldn’t make it because of how he differed from the stereotypical rugby player.
But a world without Benji Marshall in the NRL is likely a world where halfbacks are a lot less creative. Look at the likes of Rangi Chase and co who brought maverick skills to Super League, perhaps without the trends set by Marshall Super League wouldn’t have been graced by some of the strangest most exciting skills the game has conjured up in the last two decades.
Now retired, we should all look back fondly on his career.