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In Touch: Backing Benji's brilliance over consistency

Leila McKinnon, Channel 9 NRL.com Tue, Sep 13, 2011 - 8:02 AM

Leila McKinnon is backing Benji Marshall's brilliance into the finals Copyright: NRL Photos

What’s your performance style? Are you a Friday night footballer? Before you answer let me just say who is the greatest Friday night footballer of all: Willie Mason. 

I’m talking here about people who have all the talent and skills in the world but only give it all they’ve got on those occasions when everyone is watching and there is glory for the taking. Transplant a Friday night footballer to Canberra Stadium on a drizzly Saturday to play before a meagre but dedicated crowd, and watch him drift aimlessly around the field.
 
I believe I only saw Willie “Bubba” Mason play at his best on one occasion. It was the 2008 grudge-match between Willie’s new club the Roosters, and the club he abandoned amid much acrimony the year before. 

Fired up by the many headlines featuring his name, the Friday night fireworks and cameras, and a bitter Bulldogs home crowd, Willie played like a demon, scoring two tries, including a belter in which he slid belly first between the posts while yelling at the crowd. I’ll never forget it, but I don’t remember any other Willie moments during his two years at the Roosters.
 
The kind of player you want on your team is the kind that turns up no matter what, treating every game as if it’s Origin. Fortunately all teams have at least one of these guys. This year my team’s most consistent player was Anthony Minichiello, digging deep even during a disheartening losing streak, and earning his reward in a surprise Origin selection.
 
Tigers centre Chris Lawrence seemed greedy earlier this year when he called for more consistency from the brilliant Benji Marshall. What team wouldn’t like a Benji? But coach Tim Sheens backed him, asking for more judicious plays and saying the club had to rely less on flamboyance.
 
The only way to describe Benji is brilliant. But when several NRL greats were asked by The Daily Telegraph to compare him with the Broncos’ Darren Lockyer, Benji came off second best every time. 

The paper made the point that Benji runs further, kicks longer and makes triple the offloads of Locky, but also makes more mistakes.
 
Kangaroo playmaker Brett Kenny put it this way: “There’s no consistency, one minute he can be the best player on the field, the next it’s like he’s the worst.” Canterbury legend Terry Lamb said: “If a game is in the balance, yes, Benji often comes up with a terrific play. But Darren Lockyer does it eight, nine times out of every 10.”
 
Geez legends can be fussy. Maybe that’s what made them great in the first place. I’m no legend but I’m backing Benji into the finals. Sometimes it seems brilliance can be underrated.

Of course, Tigers fans should hold off on the celebrations for now. I’ve backed a lot of losers this year, so many that I came publicly and humiliatingly last in The Sunday Telegraph footy tipping competition, one year after coming first. I suppose I found some consistency, in that I consistently lost. 

Ditto the Titans, wow, right up at number four at the end of the regular season last year, this year dropping 12 places to collect the wooden spoon. But no one’s had more of a rollercoaster ride than Storm fans, from the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. 

Consistent winning is the goal of all coaches, but where’s the fun in that? The road to finals glory should be a long one, full of ups and downs, near misses, golden points, fingernail-biting, and wild celebrations. It’s not the easy way for anyone, but it’s the exciting way, and it’s the only way rugby league is played.