There were times when supercoach Wayne Bennett was sick of rugby league. The cure? A healthy dose of Benji Marshall sidesteps and flick passes.
“When I saw him first play … I would be over football but I’d want to watch him play. He was so exciting, he just brought that unpredictability which was part of his game all his career.”
Marshall’s career in the NRL – 19 seasons, which he noted was more than half his life during his retirement press conference – will go down in the history books as one of the best ever.
Fans will remember the slick footwork and audacious ball playing, the bag of tricks that was dipped in to regardless of field position – but the impact he had on those around him can never be fully quantified.
“I was looking back at some highlights this morning, and I’ve done some good stuff,” he said to laughter.
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“From a flashy young kid doing all this weird stuff, to a man who was given this opportunity – I feel really lucky.”
He enjoyed an embrace with his outgoing coach as the press conference concluded, while teammates including Tom Burgess and Damien Cook sat in the front row and applauded.
“How he’s presented himself today makes you realise what the game’s done for him and what he’s done for the game,” Bennett said.
“He influenced a whole generation of his family, but he also had a great influence on a whole generation of rugby league people, particularly those who played the position.
“Allan Langer was the guy everyone wanted to watch, but then along came Benji, and he was the guy everyone wanted to watch.”
Bennett coached Marshall at the Broncos and with the New Zealand international team before reuniting in 2021 for one last ride at the Rabbitohs.
Recalling a pre-season promise where Bennett guaranteed the veteran the number 14 jersey, he said that Souths’ first home game instantly vindicated the decision.
NRL Presser: Benji Marshall calls time on his NRL career
“You got up and started to warm up and the crowd started to go off, they wanted you on the field and normally I don’t listen to all that stuff, but they carried on there for about two or three minutes,” he said to Marshall.
“You weren’t warming up, you were just trying to get my attention – and I thought they would have hung me if I didn’t put you on. I loved the way the Souths fans accepted you into the club as well mate, they just thought you were one of theirs all of your career.”
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The 36-year-old didn’t get the fairytale send-off most neutrals were hoping for on Sunday, but he acknowledged that if not for an intervention from Bennett in 2017, he could have been gone much earlier.
“I know Wayne knows this, but I would have been retired about seven years ago if it wasn’t for him giving me the opportunity at Brisbane,” Marshall admnitted.
“Sometimes you just have a special connection as player and coach… some people say father and son. I really want to thank you for the opportunity, and for you believing and trusting in me to have this moment today.”
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