Benji Marshall reckons it’s a case of third time lucky.
Twice previously, Marshall reached out to Wests Tigers about the possibility of a return. The first came after his ill-fated Auckland Blues stint. The second, also via his manager, followed his tenure with St George Illawarra. The answer came back “no” on both occasions. Which is why he wanted to make his pitch to Ivan Cleary a personal one.
“Coming back here is not about being energised or reinvigorated or whatever,” Marshall explained.
“This is about coming back to where it started and where I didn’t really want to leave in the first place.
“It’s no secret I was told to go, I just never had a chance to come back until now.
“I did try and come back [before] the Dragons and they had other plans, which is sweet. I did try again before I went to Brisbane and it was a ‘no’ again.
“Third time lucky.”
Marshall’s relationship with Cleary was limited to a handful of conversations in the greenroom before their weekly segments on NRL 360. Cleary enquired about Marshall’s availability when Mitchell Moses left mid-season for Parramatta, but Wayne Bennett wouldn’t allow it. Shortly afterwards, the Tigers signed Tui Lolohea and it appeared the window was forever closed on a comeback. However, Marshall was determined to make it happen. With his wife pregnant and keen to return closer to family in Sydney, he picked up the phone and arranged a meeting with Cleary. His pitch, made in a cafe in Homebush, hit the mark. Benji is back.
“What Ivan did say was that he wanted a link to the past, but still moving on,” Marshall said.
“Timing is everything. I think I needed the year in Brisbane, just to gain a bit of perspective and just enjoy it. There was no pressure there, which I really enjoyed. I feel like coming here, there is no pressure to do anything. I’m not the starting halfback or five-eighth, hopefully I’m on the bench. There’s no pressure on me to do anything. It’s just good to be back.”
If the comeback goes to plan, he will return to the New Zealand national side as well. As a proud Kiwi and a Seven Network commentator, he has been watching the Rugby League World Cup with interest. He has been disappointed, both with New Zealand’s performance and that fact he wasn’t part of their squad.
“I just wish I was in the team, I could have helped,” he said.
“I’ll never make myself unavailable for New Zealand. It’s my country and I will always play if they pick me. I will always be available.
“I thought maybe off of last years’s season I might have been a chance, but at least [coach David Kidwell] was honest with me and said Tamaire [Martin] and Kodi [Nikorima] and Thomas Leuluai were ahead of me at that point of his decision.
“Experience wise, just in the halves and managing the game – that [Tonga] game especially and maybe the ones before – I think in camp situations I’m pretty relaxed and not so serious.
“I like bringing all the boys together, that’s how I am. They could have done with a bit of that.”
Team cohesion will also be paramount if the Tigers are to taste success. Marshall’s arrival had the potential of upsetting their marquee recruit, Josh Reynolds, given one has proudly worn the club’s No.6 jersey and the other intends to. However, both couldn’t be happier with the arrangement.
“I was really excited to come here and play with the likes of Benji,” Reynolds said.
“I’ve always loved the way he played, he’s so silky and such a good ball player and I feel that’s what I need to work on a bit.
“I’ve been picking his brain and I listen in. It’s like my first day here and I’m listening to one of the great players of the game. I’ve got no ego, it’s not like I say ‘I know this’. That’s the best way, you can constantly be learning in footy because there’s always someone better at something than you. You come in with an open mindset and that’s the best way to be.
“Having Benji here is a good thing.”