Sublime Benji 'most nervous' since NRL debut
Seriously, who writes Benji Marshall's scripts?
A whopping 1645 days after his previous match for his beloved Wests Tigers, he returned supposedly as a support act behind new star halves Luke Brooks and Josh Reynolds.
A combination of impending fatherhood and a niggling calf strain conspired to prevent him playing a single trial or even training as much as he would have liked.
He was supposed to play 20-odd minutes at the back end of the game. Then a day before the match, Josh Reynolds rips his hamstring. Benji ended up playing the entire 80.
Not only that, but for a pulsating 10 minutes early in the second half, he was the only half on the field for the Tigers as Brooks cooled his heels in the sin-bin. Marshall pulled the strings, directed traffic, kicked long, kicked to corners, soaked up the clock and helped keep the Sydney Roosters try-less while Brooks was off.
A last-gasp match-winner by Corey Thompson ensured Marshall's long-awaited return was a successful one.
After the game, Marshall said before the game was the most nervous he'd been since 2003.
"Today is the most nervous I've been since I my debut I reckon," he said.
"I've never been that quiet before a game, I've never been quiet at home the day of a game like I was today, it was weird. Probably when Brooksy got sin binned was when I was able to sort of relax a bit more and realise I had to take control and it made me forget about everything else. So thanks Brooksy!"
Marshall was seen stretching his calf regularly late in the game but he said it was nothing to worry about in the coming weeks.
"I was just cramping man. It wasn't even that calf, it was the other one," he said.
"If I didn't think it was right I wouldn't have played. Calves are an old man's injury. I felt physically ready to play I just wasn't sure about the 80 minutes part, I haven't played 80 minutes for a long time. Even at Brisbane I didn't get a lot of chances to play 80 minutes. Just happy to get through it."
Despite not being concerned about his calf injury, Marshall confessed he probably wasn't prepared to play 80 minutes.
"Physically I probably wasn't ready for 80, to be honest. But after yesterday and what happened to Josh (Reynolds) at the back end of captain's run [I had to]," he said.
"It was probably a good thing because I didn't have to think about it too much during the week.
"I haven't played any trial games, you can't practice match fitness at training. I had a week off thinking the baby was going to come and it didn't come. Then I had another week where it was supposed to come and I missed that game as well, then I had a calf injury. My preparation probably wasn't the best after Christmas but just lucky to get through it."
Past Tigers teams arguably would not have found a way to steal a win against a Roosters team after falling behind in the final quarter. Marshall credited the influence of some of the leaders brought to the club – including Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Robbie Rochow – plus coach Ivan Cleary drilling in a winning mentality over the off-season.
"Throughout the pre-season Ivan made us practice winning and if you lost anything through pre-season you got punished for it," Marshall said.
"We actually had to practice winning and I thought that helped us a bit today at the back end of that game. The boys really put in for each other. We gained each other's trust, especially with a new group."
Players were split into groups over off-season training with the losers forced to do extras with trainer Ronnie Palmer, according to Marshall.
"Ronnie's the hardest trainer I've ever seen. If you lost you do penalties with Ronnie and no-one wants to do that so you tried not to lose. Just trying to create that winning culture. Obviously it's only one game but it's a pretty good place to start," he said.
Marshall also revealed he got a text message of encouragement from former coach Wayne Bennett on game day that gave him a boost.
"I got a nice message off the big fella today before the game which was nice," he said.
"I sent him a message saying all the best for the season and he wrote back today saying mate, go out there being the Benji we know at the Tigers and just enjoy yourself and play footy. I tried to."