Forget Joe Exotic, Benji Marshall is the only Tiger King Netflix needed to make a documentary about.
The NRL veteran played his final game for the Wests Tigers last night, waving goodbye on a sad note as he limped off injured during a 28-24 loss to Parramatta. The joint-venture club has told Marshall he’s unwanted beyond this season even though he wants to play on, meaning he’ll have to find a new home in 2021.
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The 35-year-old debuted as a teenager in 2003, led the Tigers to their only premiership in 2005 and returned as the Prodigal Son in 2018 after a short stint in rugby union was followed by cameos with the Dragons and Broncos.
Even when wearing other teams’ colours, Marshall always wanted to return to Leichhardt — the scene of so many moments where he made you question whether he was made of rubber and plasticine rather than muscle and bone.
We’ve all been looking for ways to kill time in lockdown and there are few better options for rugby league lovers than to glue themselves to Marshall highlights on YouTube.
A freakish try against the Eels at Leichhardt and suddenly Ray Warren was directing a game of Twister rather than commentating an NRL match. “Right foot, right foot, left foot … Marshall goes all the way!” Rabs cried.
Clutching at thin air was more than just hyperbole when Benji was in a mood. Like against Cronulla, again at Leichhardt, when three physics-defying left-foot steps 10m short of halfway humiliated Sharks defenders into falling on their backsides. Marshall accelerated through a hole, pulled off a goose step to skip past fullback David Peachey, then threw a no-look cut out ball to his winger, who passed inside for a Daniel Fitzhenry try.
It was a passage of play you wanted to take out for a three-course dinner and introduce to your parents on the same night. One look and they’d tell you to put a ring on it.
A round-the-back flick pass to Blake Ayshford against Parramatta won’t be remembered in the same vein as his famous grand final dish-off to Pat Richards but it was even more arousing. Benji was bringing sexy back.
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Benji was just a baby when he arrived in the NRL.Source:News Corp Australia
He’s older now but the bag of tricks remains.Source:Getty Images
An impossible 40m triple cut-out pass to Beau Ryan against Melbourne at Leichhardt took Andrew Johns’ breath away. It was a skill the Kiwi superstar never lost.
Did you see those two bullet passes for Asu Kepaoa tries against Melbourne last week? Hell, half of Australia would vote for them if they stood as candidates in the next federal election.
Marshall was king of the short-side play, too. First with partner in crime Scott Prince, then Robbie Farah and Chris Lawrence, and Lote Tuqiri and his good mate Ryan, he found space in places NASA couldn’t.
Marshall did things footy had never seen before. He changed the game.
Karmichael Hunt tried to emulate the Benji step and was bloody good at it, but just like the Star Wars films and Tim Tams, nothing beats the original.
Cameron Smith may be the best we’ve ever seen, Joey the smartest, and among the backs this century Billy Slater the most electrifying and Greg Inglis the most powerful. But Benji entertained like no one else. In an era of controlling the ruck, boring hit-ups for quick play-the-balls and halves sticking to one side of the field, Marshall said, ‘Stuff it’.
Get out of the way and just enjoy the show.
That step. That spiral. That sleight of hand. That ability to make everyone in the stadium think he was going one way, only to go the other at the last second. Always on edge, always an entertainer.
There were mistakes — oh so many mistakes — but every flick pass that came off was worth the five chip kicks he never regathered.
We may well see Marshall in the NRL next year, but his heart — and his highlights reel — will forever lie with Wests.
So farewell from Leichhardt, Benji Marshall, the only Tiger King we’ll ever need.
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Goodbye Benji.Source:Getty Images
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