Before the 2021 season kicked off, the Roosters were favourites in many people’s eyes to feature heavily in the finals series once again and maybe even win another premiership.
Benji Marshall has announced his retirement from the NRL after 19 years and 346 games across four clubs, going out with his closest mentor Wayne Bennett by his side.
Marshall, 36, was briefly emotional as he began his media conference before turning on his trademark humour to thank fans, friends and family.
“I started off my journey in rugby league as a small boy from Whakatane chasing a dream,” a teary Marshall said.
“I’ll leave this game as a man who has learned a lot of lessons.
“Nineteen seasons in the NRL is more than half the length of my life.
“I was looking back at some highlights this morning and I’ve done some good stuff,” he joked.
“Seriously, from a flashy young kid, doing all this weird stuff to a man who’s been given this opportunity I feel really lucky.
“I just didn’t want to miss this opportunity to say thank you to all the fans. Without the fans we don’t get to do what we do, we don’t get to put on a show for you guys.
“There’s no other feeling like it – running out in front of a packed stadium with your fans cheering or booing. I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity.
Marshall said he had to overcome five shoulder reconstructions in his first five seasons and revealed he almost retired seven years ago.
Bennett has been his saviour on more than one occasion, taking him to Brisbane in 2017 and then bringing him into South Sydney this season.
Marshall’s Souths teammates were on hand for his announcement and he started by thanking them.
“You play for your mates, and you don’t let each other down,” Marshall said.
“I want to thank the NRL for letting me be a part of this great game, I’d like to thank the West Tigers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Brisbane Broncos and the St. George Illawarra Dragons for the opportunity to represent those four great clubs.
“I like to make special mention to South Sydney for the opportunity to finish on my terms. For the chance to represent this great club, wear the jersey play with such a great team and I feel like it really helped my legacy being in a place where I really wanted to be when I finished playing this game.
“I’d like to make extra mention of the West Tigers where I’m a life member. I spent the majority of my rugby league life playing for the West Tigers, won a competition in 2005 with them – something I’ll never forget.”
Marshall then thanked his Keebra Park high school coach Greg Lenton, who he said was integral in him believing he could cut it as a rugby league player while others felt he was “just a touch footy player.”
“Even though I played a lot different – I had this big, jumpy, ugly looking sidestep thing that everyone thought was weird and I used to do these wacko passes and everyone thought that was not normal – Greg Lenton encouraged me to be able to play the way that I want to play, and let those talents come out.”
Marshall paid tribute to two of his former NRL coaches – Tim Sheens from the Tigers and Bennett.
Sheens, he said “helped me come through and become the player that I am today. His mentorship, his coaching, his encouragement of me being able to use my skills, second to none.
“And I’d also like to make special mention of the guy sitting next to me, Wayne Bennett. I know Wayne knows this but I would have been retired about seven years ago, if it wasn’t for him giving me the opportunity at Brisbane.
“Sometimes you just have a special connection as player and coach and some people would say father and son. Wayne, I want to thank you for the opportunity and for believing and trusting me to have this moment today because without being here, I don’t think this would be the same.”
Bennett lauded Marshal for a “remarkable career” and said he didn’t understand why some coaches had been willing to let him slip.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching him in two clubs and also on the New Zealand team when we’re all part of the winning World Cup so I’ve always gravitated towards him,” Bennett said.
“As I said on countless occasions, I would be over football but I’d want to watch him play – he is so exciting, brought back unpredictability, which was part of his game all his career.
“There’s another part that I learned about him and that’s what a great bloke he is and how committed he is to everything around him team, mateship all the things that are important.”
Bennett said Marshall had been a natural mentor to the younger Souths players this season.
“I’ve never had any hesitation when he’s rang me to look for a club on the two occasions when things were a bit tough for him, because I’ve always loved what he brought and knew what a great team man he was,” said Bennett.
“It always dumbfounded me a little bit that clubs could not see those values. Sometimes as you get older it becomes a little bit more than just actual football you can play but how much influence you have on the group around you as well.”
Marshall said he received a message from a cousin on Wednesday that summed up why he was proud of his achievements.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my career, I’ve had a lot of highlights, a lot of proud moments,” Marshall said. “But the thing I’m most proud of is what I got told this morning and that’s that I set a pathway for our family to follow that was different from the normal back home.
“I gave them something to aspire to, something to chase and made it possible for them that if I could live my dream they can live their dreams. So that’s what I’ll be most proud of.”
And Marshall saved some special thanks for his wife Zoe for being “my rock, my constant support.”
“People don’t understand when you ride the wave of the sport, there’s highs and lows and through the lows you picked me up and through the highs, you help me higher.
“I’ll be forever grateful for the sacrifice that you made for me to be able to live my dreams.” Then he joked: “including the two weeks quarantine that I’ve just been through – such a pleasure. But I owe a lot of my career to what you’ve helped me achieve. And I really love you for that.”