Tigers legend Benny Elias has backtracked after unloading on Benji Marshall when he first left the club, describing his return as a “massive coup” which would bring untold benefits on and off the field.
Elias, who was critical of Marshall when he left the club at the end of 2013, said the 2005 Wests Tigers premiership winner’s experience would be invaluable to halves Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks but added the 32-year-old veteran's influence would go further than that.
“Benji has developed into a real mentor as he has got older,” Elias told NRL.com
“He has a high regard and respect for the youth because it is only five minutes ago that he was there himself.
“His experience and the respect he is held in by the club is so valuable and I think it is a massive coup because he is going to be great for Reynolds and Brooks, but also the young kids the Tigers have got who are on the fringes.
“It is about everything off the football paddock and Benji is such a popular character, a great representative of the club and what it stands for and an icon of the game.
“He has done everything in the game but he still has talent and class. You never lose that. I understand why Ivan has brought him back and I think it will pay off for him big time. It is great to have him home.”
Elias said he expected Reynolds and Brooks to play in the halves.
“I don’t think Ivan will put Benji at No.6 or No.7 to start the season,” Elias said.
“I reckon he will have the dual role as a great interchange player and someone who will also monitor and bring through the young kids.”
Elias explained why he was critical of Marshall when he left the club four years ago.
“He loved the Wests Tigers and the reason I gave him a serve was that he promised he would not play for another club,” Elias said.
“I took that personally and said my two bob’s worth ... but we all take different directions and life’s journey moves in mysterious ways."
Marshall recently explained to NRL.com his departure from the club was not by choice.
"The thing I was frustrated with was that I agreed to a contract here for five years," Marshall said.
“After that the CEO moved on and the new CEO didn't want to honour that contract. That was probably the hardest thing to take for me. In saying that, I needed the change. I needed to grow up and get out of here. I feel like I'm in a good place now and happy to be back. When it comes to the club, I always still supported the club and it always held a place in my heart."
Elias said those sentiments would be reciprocated by the Tigers faithful who he insisted would embrace Marshall like a returning son.
Marshall’s old Wests Tigers No.6 jersey used to sell like hotcakes and young kids would often say that they wanted to be the next Benji.
“Benji was the biggest, biggest superstar and the most exciting player we’ve ever had, along with Larry Corowa,” Elias said.
“When Benji Marshall touched the football everybody stood up. He was that brilliant. It was electrifying to watch him and that’s why it was sad that he left.
“One thing about Beni Marshall is that he has done it all and realised his potential. I am very disappointed in people who don’t turn their potential into something special, but he has done that.”
Elias said Cleary had put a lot of thought into his roster for the 2018 Telstra Premiership with Marshall, Reynolds, Ben Matulino, Chris McQueen and Russell Packer among the big-name signings.
“Ivan has made a statement with his recruiting,” Elias said.
“The good thing is that he was there for the majority of the year and that gave him an understanding of who he needed and who he didn’t.
“He has put his neck out and made his mark and said ‘this is the way I am doing it, now follow me’, and I admire that. It is a good sign of leadership.”