Benji Marshall was emotional after full-time as Souths booked a Grand Final berth, but his tears weren’t only for 17 years of struggle.
Benji Marshall appears set to finish his career with one more grand final — 16 years after his first Premiership.
Marshall burst onto the scene with the Wests Tigers in 2003 and revolutionised the game with his creativity, his speed to burn and his killer step.
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Marshall has gone down in NRL history for his flick pass for Pat Richards in the 2005 decider, which many consider to be one of the greatest tries in Grand Final history.
But after 346 games, the 36-year-old Marshall, who has yet to officially decide his future, is expected to retire after the Grand Final.
Having been handed a career lifeline by Wayne Bennett and the Rabbitohs after he was axed by the Tigers last year, Marshall has been remade as a utility player off the bench and revelled in what could be his final season.
As the game will also be the last for Wayne Bennett as the coach of the Rabbitohs before handing the reins over to long-time assistant Jason Demetriou, star half Adam Reynolds who is moving to Brisbane for a three-year deal, and Dane Gagai returning to Newcastle.
After a 29-minute cameo in the match, Marshall, donning a cap, was in tears at full-time as he was overcome by the emotion of potentially being able to bow out a winner.
But it was also more than that, revealing to Channel 9 that the hat he was wearing after the full-time siren was to pay tribute to a family member who passed away during the week.
“Mixed emotion today, part of one of my wife’s lost their daughter Jess to bowel cancer yesterday, just a bit of a tribute to pass on my condolences,” Marshall said.
“She made these hats to support bowel cancer, and the black arm band as well. Just wanted to pass on the best to the family.”
Much of the NRL world was pleased for Marshall to bow out a winner if this is indeed his final match.
Bennett paid tribute to Marshall in his press conference.
“The thing I like about Benji is that he called me up and said, ‘Rhe deal’s fallen through, I’d love to come to South Sydney’,” he said.
“I went to see Adam and Cody because I didn’t want them to think I was undermining them and they wanted him to come.
“So I rang him back and said, ‘Mate, why do you want to come to South Sydney for?’ and he said, ‘I think you can win a premiership’. He said, ‘I want to go out on a good note’. I said, ‘Okay mate, let’s do that. I’ll make you No. 14 every week, that’s my guarantee to you’. And he’s been wonderful for us.
“He’s been great around the younger players and giving them advice and helping and all that stuff.”
Bennett was asked if Marshall was retiring and he said, “I think so … You can’t retire at any better moment in your career than a Grand Final, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
On Fox League, Braith Anasta said the whole reason he wanted to go to the Rabbitohs was to win a premiership, after the Bulldogs denied his chance to play with his brother Jeremy Marshall-King.
But Michael Ennis said it was the perfect finish for him.
“How about the emotion here from Benji Marshall,” he said. “This was a guy who was the pin up boy, his sidestep revolutionised the way young kids looked at the game. Then he went through incredible challenges. He went to rugby, it didn’t work for him. He came back for the Dragons, went to the Tigers, the Tigers let him go, it was tough going his exit from a club that he loved.
“Now at 36-year of age, 17 years it’s been. This is special stuff.”
After winning a premiership in his third season, Ennis said, “It’d feel like you’re going to do it every year — it’s taken him 17 years to get back there”.