League great Benji Marshall calls time on NRL career

Benji Marshall. Photo: Getty
Benji Marshall. Photo: Getty
After 19 years of watching Benji Marshall dazzle rugby league audiences, Wayne Bennett summed it up best at the star's retirement on Wednesday.

"I've always gravitated towards him," Bennett said.

"When I saw him first play, I would be over football but I'd want to watch him.

"He was so exciting. He just brought that unpredictability."

A tearful Marshall confirmed his time was up on Wednesday, arriving at a decision after South Sydney's grand-final loss.

It was his 346th and final game, to go with 31 tests for the Kiwis and a Golden Boot in 2010.

Five years after retirement first looked likely, the 36-year-old Marshall opted to beat father time before it caught him.

"I just don't think it gets any better in terms of timing," Marshall said.

"The more I thought about it, if I don't make this decision now I would have played until I was 40.

"I would have hated to go on for one season too long."

Marshall is without doubt the most influential player for youngsters this century.

From the moment he sidestepped three Newcastle players out of dummy-half on debut in 2003, kids have been practising the Benji step.

By age 20 in 2005, Benji-mania was unmatched.

An afternoon at Shark Park where he scored one try and set up two only foreshadowed what would become the most replayed grand-final moment of the 2000s.

No player has had their career so defined by one play like Marshall's flick for Pat Richards in Wests Tigers' 2005 success.

"I was looking back at some highlights this morning and I've done some good stuff," Marshall said.

"From a flashy young kid doing all this weird stuff to a man who was given this opportunity, I feel really lucky."

Marshall credited Keebra Park school coach Greg Lenton for encouraging him to bring touch football into the NRL.

"I had this big jumpy ugly looking sidestep thing that everyone though was weird," Marshall said.

"I used to throw these whacko passes.

"When everyone told him that I was just a touch footballer, he gave me an opportunity and encouraged me to use those skills.

"Without that I might not have been where I am today."

It wasn't always easy.

He had five shoulder reconstructions between 2004 and 2008, and was told to retire.

He left the Tigers and NRL for rugby union at the end of 2013 before returning months later at St George Illawarra.

His career looked over when unsigned in 2016 before a last-minute call to Bennett saved him at Brisbane.

"No-one has a perfect career, you're going to always have lots of ups and downs," Marshall said.

"It's how you come out of those negatives and how you ride those positives.

"I'm really proud of how I fought back from all my setbacks."

Marshall made a point of thanking the Tigers on Wednesday, where his career should have ended.

But when told he would not be re-signed last year it was Bennett who again allowed him to go out on his own terms.

"It always dumbfounded me a bit to think that clubs could not see those values," Bennett said.

"When they talk about the great players of the game, he will always be in that category."

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