This week in Big League magazine
The world is littered with magicians who met unfortunate ends trying to outdo their most daring performance.
While Benji Marshall’s request for a release from the final two years of his contract at the Wests Tigers is hardly as dramatic, it is no less an indicator of what happens when your audience comes to expect the impossible as a matter of course.
I’m really disappointed that we appear set to lose Benji Marshall from rugby league because I genuinely believe there is a mature footballer capable of winning games of his own volition just waiting to be sculpted into place.
When this precocious kid with lightning fast feet and a football brain that made senior players look silly burst onto the scene, he quickly had the rugby league world in raptures. If you think Ashton Agar has spun the cricket world on its head, go back to 2003 when Benji announced himself. He may perhaps be best remembered for a flick pass in a grand final that no 20-year-old had a right to throw but we should never forget his repeated fights to return to first grade when his right shoulder required four separate operations, seemingly one after the other.
Whether through his on-field deeds, his marketability, cheeky nature or simple appeal to the kids who find joy in wonder, Benji has earned a place among the likes of Wally, Mal, Artie, Cliffy, Cam and Billy as players who need only a first name to be immediately identifiable to people even beyond the game of rugby league itself.
When Darren Lockyer went from being the world’s best fullback to the world’s best five-eighth, the scything runs that split defensive lines gradually declined in time. What ‘Locky’ did do however, was to show team-mates where they needed to run to make incisions of their own.
Benji, at 28 years of age, had time to become that player. I’m just sad he won’t take the time to dazzle us with some new tricks.
The scheduling around Origin has dominated discussion this past week and I am starting to join the band that believe our representative scheduling needs a significant overhaul.
I’d love to see the Under-20s Origin fixture brought into line with the three-match senior Series and with an under-16s or under-18s match as a second curtain-raiser, I think you could create a wonderful Saturday schedule that kicks off at 4pm and climaxes with Origin at 8pm.
Why not introduce a Pacific Island Four Nations-style competition to run concurrently with the Origin Series that will give fans some footy and broadcasters content and have New Zealand run their own Origin-style Series? In time we may find that does more for the development of international rugby league than one-off mid-season Tests.
We haven’t come up with the ideal solution just yet, but does that mean we should abandon the search?