Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
"I feel a little bit sorry for Brooksy to be honest."
It's not what you expect to hear, but then this is the game Benji Marshall never thought he'd play.
Almost a year after walking out on the Tigers, Marshall's first game against the club he thought he'd never leave, and the kid that's since assumed his title as Prince of Tiger Town, is set to send one of rugby league's favourite clichés into hyper drive.
The old 'master and apprentice' chestnut will come down from the shelf and take centre stage come Sunday afternoon, on the same ANZ Stadium turf that Marshall tore up in the 2005 Grand Final with a flick pass that still remains the single greatest defining moment in Wests Tigers history.
Sure, there's probably a point the size of a small European nation to prove to Mick Potter, the man he never did quite see eye-to-eye with in his final year at the club. And another to the Tigers' faithful that circulated an online petition demanding his axing as his time in the black and gold wound to a tumultuous close.
But as a showdown looms with 19-year-old prodigy Luke Brooks, the local kid currently doing a damn fine job of walking in Benji's boots, Marshall publicly issued words of caution he has already delivered in private to the youngster who's been repeatedly dubbed the second coming of rugby league deity Andrew Johns.
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Call it a seasoned media player trying to deflate the air of expectation out of a build-up that promises to be anything but "no different from any other week". Or call it the maturing of a man who has watched the wheels of the NRL wagon turn, and even fallen under them a few times himself, enough to know how quickly the glare of the spotlight can blind.
"Before I left I said there's a lot of pressure being placed on him to be the next Joey, which is a big call because Joey's an immortal and probably the greatest player of all time," Marshall muses on the messianic predictions that have surrounded each and every one of Brooks' 18 games in the top grade.
"I feel a little bit sorry for Brooksy to be honest... He doesn't need that. He's a kid who's in his first season of first grade who's performing pretty good. And you just don't need those raps. Sure he might end up being the next Joey but for now he doesn't need to be."
Marshall may have moved on from the club he spent over a third of his 29 years on this earth with, but the Tigers' next generation, headed by Brooks and schoolyard chum turned NRL sensation Mitch Moses, still speak in revered tones of the former Kiwi skipper's influence. For his part, Marshall says he is merely performing the civic duties he was once afforded by Tigers veterans during his formative years.
"When I was there I wanted to help the young guys and help them learn and pass on what I knew about being in that situation because that was me when I was young," says Marshall.
"I had a lot of pressure and everyone saying all these good things about me and just trying to teach them how to handle it.
"I pride myself on passing on whatever I know to help out the young guys whenever I can. I've been that young guy before and had guys like Scott Prince, Mark O'Neill, John Skandallis helping me out.
"And that's all I wanted to do. I knew they were talented and going to be stars, I just wanted to try help wherever I can.
It's nothing different from what I'm trying to do here (at the Dragons) with some of these young guys."
With interim coach Paul McGregor declaring his side need at least four wins from their final seven games to assure themselves a spot in the top eight when the regular season wraps up, Marshall says his focus will be entirely devoted to the Red V's revived final chances rather than the potentially frosty reception from Tigers fans on Sunday.
"As far as I'm concerned I had 12 years – the best years of my life," Marshall says of his first clash with the club he vowed never to play against when he first departed last August.
"I won a competition there, made some great friends and became friends with a lot of the fans.
"Whatever happens, happens. There's a lot of emotion that comes in sport and people get a little bit filthy on players who leave clubs. But I'm not the first person to leave the club and I won't be the last person to leave the club.
"Take the emotion aside and it's not about that for me. It's about doing what I can to help us win and if I do that and we win then I've done my job."