There has been much written in the last few weeks about the possibility of Latrell Mitchell possibly donning the white black, and gold of the Wests Tigers as early as 2020.
It seems like yesterday when a young Benji Marshall – straight out of the famed Keebra Park State High School – took the NRL by storm.
He is a transcendent superstar of the NRL. His trademark sidestep off both feet was something to behold and was widely imitated by kids, including the current up-and-coming NRL stars we see playing today.
Every rugby league fan was in awe as they watched his star rise.
The sidestepping, line-breaking, no-look-passing player has since matured. He is now a more calculated playmaker than his younger self, thinking plays ahead, playing with less risk and being the older veteran to his younger halves partner Luke Brooks. But even in 2019, he is still showing so much value for the Wests Tigers.
Next Sunday, the champion five-eighth plays his 300th NRL game against the Parramatta Eels, lining up for his beloved Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium.
This is such a wonderful achievement when it seemed like his career arc was on the decline when he decided to leave rugby league for the Auckland Blues in Super Rugby at the end of 2013.
Has he done enough to make the National Rugby League’s Hall of Fame?
The NRL Hall of Fame has 106 inductees. The last six added in 2018 were Mark Graham, Cliff Lyons, Ricky Stuart, Gorden Tallis, Steve Menzies and Petero Civoniceva, so the round of players who are next in line are Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis.
From there, you could argue the case for other Origin and premiership champions who deserve a mention such as Matt Scott, Danny Buderus, Anthony Minichiello, Craig Fitzgibbon and many more we could debate.
So let’s break down Benji Marshall’s case into three stages of his career: first at the Wests Tigers, then his international career with New Zealand, and finally at the Dragons, Broncos and back at the Tigers.
Between 2003 and 2013, Benji Marshall played 11 seasons with the Wests Tigers. The first two were rookie seasons – he only played 11 first grade games during those years and they were disrupted by severe multiple shoulder injuries, yet he was able to taste success early by winning the World Club Challenge in 2004.
Marshall only led the Tigers to the finals three times – in 2005, 2010 and 2011 – and the club haven’t appeared in the playoffs since.
Between 2006 and 2009, he suffered injury-ravaged seasons as his body was failing him. Benji was slowly losing his trademark athletic ability to jink and step but he was smart enough to adjust and evolve as a playmaker.
The 2010 season was redemption for not only Benji but the Wests Tigers. They finished third in the regular season, going 15-9. Benji Marshall finished in the top three point-scorers and led the Tigers’ charge to try and win another premiership.
This was their window. Lote Tuqiri had signed, they had Gareth Ellis and an emerging talented crop of talent, with Andrew Fifita, Chris Lawrence and Simon Dwyer complementing their older pieces.
Luck wasn’t on their side for the finals run as they lost in golden point to the Sydney Roosters, then won in Canberra and lost to a Jamie Soward field goal in the preliminary final to the eventual premiership-winners, the Dragons.
In 2011, Benji Marshall was the NRL’s second top point-scorer and led the Tigers into the top four again, with the same 15-9 regular-season record.
They exacted revenge on 2010 premiers in the first week of the finals, before being knocked out to the Warriors in week two, led by emerging stars James Maloney and Shaun Johnson. It was a heartbreaking end to their season and that closed their window. The Wests Tigers have not been finals-bound since.
Marshall’s New Zealand representative career reads 28 Tests, captain of his country between 2008-12, winning the 2008 World Cup against Australia and winning the Four Nations in 2010 in what could be his career peak.
These achievements are even more impressive when you look at the Australian Test teams in that period, containing names like Slater, Smith, Thurston, Cronk and Inglis. This was his career peak, and he was rewarded with the Golden Boot in 2010.
After his foray in rugby union, Benji returned to league with the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Marshall was able to place second in the Dally M voting and lead the Dragons to their first finals appearance since 2011. That was the peak during that two-and-a-half-year stint.
In 2017, he decided to move to the Brisbane Broncos. He served as a senior mentor, playing reserve grade as a back-up half. Through injury, Marshall started two games for Brisbane in their run to the finals, but they lost the preliminary final against eventual premiers, the Melbourne Storm.
His career finals record stands with five wins and seven losses… and that could change if the Tigers make the eight in 2019.
Even though he was a driving force for the Wests Tigers’ most successful seasons, his legacy will be the skills he introduced to the code – years before similar sidesteppers like Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kayln Ponga emerged.