"Where's the Benji who used to enjoy his football so much? I want that guy back."
New Zealand captain Benji Marshall attributes those words from Wayne Bennett for inspiring his remarkable career rejuvenation.
After an acrimonious split with Wests Tigers in 2013, a failed rugby union stint for the Auckland Blues in 2014 and two-and-a-half seasons at St George Illawarra, Marshall feared his time in the NRL was at an end.
Even Bennett, whose first involvement with Marshall was at the 2008 World Cup, didn't think he would be coaching against him at international level 11 years later in Saturday's Test between his Great Britain Lions team and the Kiwis at Eden Park.
Without an offer for the 2017 season, Marshall phoned Bennett for advice and by the end of the call he was on his way to Brisbane on a one-year deal.
Last year Marshall had the opportunity to return to the Tigers to finish his career and this season Michael Maguire – his club and Test coach – recalled him to the Kiwis side after a seven-year absence.
Maguire then appointed him captain for last weekend's Oceania Cup Test against Australia and the two-Test series with Bennett's Lions.
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"I think it is great what the coach has done in bringing him back because he brings so much," Bennett said. "They all get older, there's no doubt about that but they don't lose their skill level, they don't lose their commitment, they might lose a yard of speed but that's about all."
Marshall and Bennett share a bond after helping New Zealand win the 2008 World Cup and the veteran playmaker has felt comfortable phoning the coaching stalwart about any issue.
"I had nowhere to go so I called him and he just said, 'come to Brisbane'," Marshall said. "He talked to me about just enjoying the game again, which I had lost. I've just been trying to do that ever since."
Besides Marshall, who last week captained New Zealand for a record 21st time at Test level, Maguire has recalled Warriors forward Adam Blair – the only other survivor from the 2008 World Cup victory.
Bennett, who worked alongside Stephen Kearney to plot New Zealand's first World Cup success, also coached Blair – the only other survivor from the 2008 squad.
Blair, who had three seasons in Brisbane from 2015 to 2017, will make his 50th Test appearance against Great Britain on Saturday.
"Benji had a great season in the competition this year at the Tigers and it's only natural that you would want him in your team and Adam Blair has got to 50 Tests," Bennett said.
"He has been a great guy to work with, he came to the Broncos. When I first met him in 2008 I couldn't believe how good he was, what a disciplined player he was.
"I mean he has had his moments with the judiciary but in terms of off-field and that type of stuff he is really outstanding so Michael has got some quality people in that team and that helps with all the younger ones coming in."
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