Would have been a different story’: How Benji’s supersub role saved his career

Benji Marshall has been a revelation as the Rabbitohs’ supersub this season. So much so, that the 36-year-old is considering going round for another year.

He’s been celebrated all season — and rightly so — for his ability to fill in at basically every position on the park.

No one has raised any concern about the 345-game veteran potentially playing on for a season too long or whether he’s good enough to make the Bunnies’ 17. He’s fitted so well into the utility role that his decision on next season remains a total mystery — and it would be no real surprise if he did play on.

It’s been such a great season for Marshall but league great Laurie Daley believes things could have gone very differently for the 345-game veteran if he had the responsibility and pressure that comes with being a starting half week-in, week-out.

“His role has changed as time has gone on,” Daley told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.

“I think the fact that he has been able to play off the bench has certainly given him longevity and the role has suited him perfectly.

“I don’t think Benji would have had the same effect if you had him playing 25 games of the year and starting as a seven or six.

“I think we would have been talking maybe a different story about Benji saying he may have gone a season too long.

“But this role has been perfect for him and I’ve got no doubt that if that’s the role Souths are looking for him to do next year, or some other club and Benji wanted to do it, he could fit it perfectly.

“He’s put his ego in his back pocket because sometimes it’s hard when you’ve been a superstar to go back and play a bits and pieces role in a team when you’ve been the go-to man.

“But he’s been able to adjust his game, get his head around what is best for him and the club and he needs to be congratulated for that.

“He’s made an impact at South Sydney, there’s no doubt about that.”

Things really could have gone so differently for Marshall. If we think back to the start of this year, he came so close to signing with the Bulldogs. He would have been a starting half each week wearing the brunt of directing a developing squad around the park.

It’s hard to say how the Bulldogs’ season would have played out if Marshall was steering the ship. But they wouldn’t have made the top eight and it’s always the halves that get targeted first when a club underperforms.

So when Marshall’s deal with Canterbury fell through he scrambled to find an opportunity. He found that opportunity with Bennett and what a masterstroke, for both, it’s ended up being as the duo prepare for Sunday’s grand final.

For Bennett, it’ll be his ninth grand final appearance and for Marshall it’ll be just his second.

You don’t have to be a rusted on rugby league fan to remember his first. That iconic flick pass to send Pat Richards away to score an important try in the Wests Tigers’ 2005 premiership win.

He became a household name and every kid dreamt of being just like him.

“He bought an exuberance with him and a flamboyancy that a lot of people loved about Benji Marshall. He had it all,” Daley said as he reminisced about Marshall’s career. Marshall was in his prime from about 2005 to 2012. He was appointed captain of the New Zealand international side and cemented himself as a Tigers legend.

2013 was a rough year. He was stripped of the New Zealand captaincy ahead of the World Cup and was relegated to the bench at one stage with the Tigers.

He went away and tried his hand at rugby union but returned to league via the Dragons, where he rediscovered his mojo, then linked up with Bennett at the Broncos before reuniting with the Tigers in 2018.

But not everyone gets their fairytale.

The Tigers decided not to offer him a new deal for 2021 and the thought of retiring with the club his career started at was off the table.

But perhaps he will get a different fairytale — another premiership when South Sydney take on Penrith in the decider.

Marshall will go down as one of the greatest. A gold-plated, genuine superstar... whenever he officially hangs the boots up.

And perhaps that will be on Sunday.

Bennett basically retired the veteran half last weekend.

When asked if this was it for Marshall, Bennett said: “I think so... he doesn’t want a fuss about it but you can’t retire in a better moment in your football career than a grand final. It doesn’t get any better than that, so he’s there.” But the man him self is refusing to give anything away.

“It was actually quite weird. Everyone thinks I’m retiring,” Marshall said earlier this week.

“No (he’s not retiring). Everyone else is retiring for me. I think Wayne retired me on the weekend, which is great.

“I haven’t made my mind up yet. I feel like I can play next year if I wanted to, easily but let’s just get through this game and see how we go.”

However, his ex-Tigers teammate and good friend, Braith Anasta believes it will all depend on Sunday’s result.

“If he wins the comp he’s running with the trophy,” he told Fox Sports News.

“I think everyone wants to finish on a high and unfortunately a lot of us don’t.

“It would be perfect. He will not be playing next year if he wins the comp. I think the only way he’ll be playing next year is if they don’t win and he’s still got that itch.”

Source: foxsports.com.au