BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Benji Marshall was on the scrapheap not long ago – right alongside the Adelaide Rams, Captain Charger and Monday Night Football.
Who really believed Benji had another run left in him?
Be honest, who thought we’d see the enigmatic playmaker back to his best in 2017 after his unceremonious exit from the St George Illawarra Dragons at the end of last year?
Yet here he is.
Fifteen years ago, a shy, slightly built kid from Whakatane began wowing fans not much older than him.
Now he’s back – entertaining them and their children.
The former Golden Boot winner is calling the shots at the Brisbane Broncos and is on a collision course with old foes Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater in a Friday night blockbuster at Suncorp Stadium.
With youngster Kodi Nikorima inside him at halfback, Marshall has become the key in a match that could see the Broncos leapfrog the Sydney Roosters into second position, behind the Storm, dependant on the Roosters losing to the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday in Gosford.
The Kiwi five-eigth has found his best in Brisbane colours since being called back into the team by Wayne Bennett a few weeks back.
But are you really surprised?
After all, Benji is only 32.
The Storm’s “Big Three” are all older than him.
Marshall’s story was meant to finish with a couple of NRL games and a quiet exit. That’s what many thought. But Marshall’s decision to sign with the Broncos, despite Bennett already boasting Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford and rising star Nikorima only proves how much confidence Benji still has in his own ability.
— Nine News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) June 27, 2017
Milford is still to return from a shoulder injury and will almost certainly come back into the starting team. But what’s stopping Benji from ousting Nikorima and keeping Hunt out of the top 13?
How can Bennett keep Benji out of his team if they continue to win?
Nikorima has also struggled in recent weeks while Hunt has excelled coming off the bench which means Bennett probably doesn’t even know what his halves combination will be next week or the week after.
Marshall said he was enjoying his time in Queensland and took a swipe at his former club Wests Tigers in the process.
“At the Tigers I had 19 different halves partners, two is a little bit less than that,” he said.
“I can’t control what happens to anyone else. While I’ve got the opportunity I’m going to do whatever I can for the team.
“I’m happy and I love playing. This will be my first home game starting this weekend.
“Part of my reason for coming to the club was to become a mentor for some of the young guys.
“They’ve really helped me reinvigorate myself. They’ve made feel young again by hanging out with the likes of Milford and Kodi.
— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) June 25, 2017
“The class of player here takes the pressure off me. I don’t have to do everything. Without these guys I wouldn’t be thriving the way I am at the moment.”
The task gets tougher for Marshall this weekend after helping steer the Broncos to victory against Canberra last Saturday night. With all due respect to the Raiders, the challenge of outplaying Cronk, Smith and Slater is Marshall’s biggest test since coming back into the side.
Some will still be expecting Benji to fade out of view. They’ll assume Milford will just come back into the team and Hunt will find form before the finals.
But don’t be surprised if the mercurial Marshall finds a few more tricks up his sleeve.
It is Benji Marshall after all.
The kid from Whakatane who has entertained two generations of rugby league supporters.