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Cameron Smith will set records that may never be broken; Benji Marshall captured the imagination of an entire sport in ways that can never be matched.

In a week in which Smith is rightly feted for breaking a barrier that seemed insurmountable only a decade ago, it would be easy to overlook Marshall’s 300th.

In a warped way it would be somewhat fitting as Marshall’s impact should not be measured purely by numbers.

Like Michael Jordan did for basketball and Tiger Woods for golf, Benji gave rugby league a street cred it had never possessed.

At a time when Australia and New Zealand were being more heavily influenced by American culture than ever before, Benji made kids want to play rugby league.

Mind-boggling sidesteps. Audacious flick passes like no-look dishes seen each week in the NBA. Goose steps that made each opposition defender look like, well, a goose.

Benji made the game cool in ways no one else had.

Prince pays tribute to Marshall

For all of his savant-like rugby league intuition – in fact, maybe because of it – few kids grow up wanting to emulate Cameron Smith; for a decade every kid who picked up a Steeden wanted to "be like Benji".

If Smith has been described as "The Accountant" for the clinical way in which a mild-mannered bloke from Logan without an imposing physique has dissected the game like no one before him, Benji has been the A-list movie star; the ultimate combination of style and substance.

Players such as Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kodi Nikorima have represented their nation in the sport having been inspired not by Benji’s accomplishments but the way in which he did it, proving to Kiwi kids that there was an option other than being an All Black.

Perhaps no player in the game’s history has been plastered over the walls of more young fans who support other teams and to this day the mere mention of his name moves the media needle like no one else.

The online explosion has meant that every click can be monitored and no one player has generated more digital impressions in the past 20 years than Benji.

And like so many of the greats – Michael, Tiger, Serena and Pele et al – it has to be Benji; Marshall just doesn’t have the same cut-through.

There was the adversity of seven shoulder injuries in the space of three years that at age 22 had people questioning his future in the game.

For a time in the wake of the Wests Tigers’ 2005 grand final triumph it seemed like every time Benji attempted a tackle his shoulder would collapse, giving those who sneered at his freewheeling ways ammunition to question whether he was tough enough to play the game in the first place.

He had made just 56 NRL appearances when his shoulder gave way for the seventh time in May 2007 but he has rebuilt his body and remodeled his game to become just the 36th player to reach 300 when the Tigers take on Parramatta on Sunday.

Wests Tigers great Benji Marshall.
Wests Tigers great Benji Marshall.

And if you need numbers to be convinced of his place in the game consider that in his first nine seasons at the Wests Tigers the team had a winning percentage of 50% or better with Benji in the team every year bar one.

He becomes just the fourth Kiwi to play 300 NRL games and has represented his country on 28 occasions.

Between 2009 and 2011 he was named RLIF Five-Eighth Of The Year (2009, 2011), Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year (2010) and awarded the Golden Boot (2010) as the best player on the planet.

His career is one of the universe’s true rarities, a brilliantly shining star that never loses its lustre.

Wests Tigers pivot Benji Marshall.
Wests Tigers pivot Benji Marshall. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

At the height of his powers he trod the line between confidence and arrogance with typical dexterity, only on the rare occasion putting a foot into touch.

He has matured into one of the statesmen of the game and made the transition from revered sporting god to a man with a common touch.

His willingness to go out of his way for young fans should never be taken for granted despite its regularity and he has a way of sprinkling magic dust on all who he meets.

Upon his arrival at the Broncos prior to the 2017 season he not only introduced himself to all the assembled journalists but also those behind the cameras.

It was a simple act that took no more than 30 seconds but left a lasting impression on those he met that day.

To be considered an Immortal you should transcend the game in ways that cannot simply be defined by statistics and record books.

By that measure Benji Marshall might just be the most deserving player of all.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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