In 2005 I was close to joining the Wests Tigers and it was the appeal of playing alongside Benji Marshall that had me keen for one last challenge in the big time.
It was a secret squirrel negotiation at the end of 2004 and never made the media because I was in direct contact with Tim Sheens, who was coaching Wests Tigers.
I’ve never spoken about this before but it is an interesting story, especially with Benji about to play his final game for the Tigers on Saturday night.
I finished my career in 2001 at Wigan and had two years off before making a comeback for Easts Tigers in the Queensland Cup.
I had a good year and scored three tries in the preliminary final.
Having those couple of years off had refreshed me in mind and body and I felt like I handled that level of competition easily for a 34-year-old. I’d had a good finals series and was ready for the next step up.
A look back at the 2005 Grand Final
I had several conversations with Tim and he said he’d like to have me on board in 2005 with the young team he had, and that he would make it happen.
It was the prospect of playing with Benji that had me excited about joining the Tigers. He’d come onto the scene in 2003 as an 18-year-old and it was clear he was going to be a special player and partner Scott Prince in the halves in 2005.
I relied a lot on good halves throughout my career. They made me look good. Guys like Kevin Walters had played a major role in my tries at the Broncos.
Kevin used to throw me the "out ball" and Benji is still throwing them. He was certainly throwing them back then and was on the verge of superstardom.
I’d been coached by Tim in the Australian Super League side in 1997 and got on with him.
I thought he was a really good coach and all the Canberra players that were my teammates in rep sides had spoken so highly of him. He was a bit like Wayne Bennett in that regard.
All the planets had aligned but unfortunately I broke my arm in the 2004 Queensland Cup grand final and decided that was it for me. That injury came at the worst possible time and the move to the Tigers never happened.
I did think at the end of 2005 how good it would have been to play in that premiership-winning Tigers side.
I remember watching the 2005 grand final and when Benji threw that flick pass to Pat Richards I just thought "what a freak". Who has the confidence to do that, let alone in a grand final?
Marshall rifles a pass to Kepaoa
Despite not being re-signed for the Tigers next year the great thing for Benji is the magic is still there.
I’ve just sent an email to Wigan’s general manager Kris Radlinski, who is also an old teammate and friend of mine, letting him know I reckon Benji would be a great asset to the team and he is still playing outstanding footy.
If Benji can’t get another NRL deal I think he would be a real asset to Wigan because the club has always appreciated his style of player.
Marshall pass hands Kepaoa his second
He has a big name over there and Wigan have always been known as an attacking team.
You look at their history and they’ve had great attacking players like Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson, Ellery Hanley and Radlinski himself.
In my era in the 1990s their defence got stiffer as well but they always had that fast play-the-ball and attack. Benji would fit right in.
He scores and sets up more tries than he lets in.
Wherever he ends up, I don’t see Benji’s defence as an issue. He scores and sets up more tries than he lets in as we have seen in recent weeks against Souths and Melbourne where he has been dazzling with his ball-playing even though the Tigers didn’t win.
From what I understand there are three or four NRL clubs that are possible options for Benji and the Broncos are one of them.
A one-year deal would be a good option for him. I know he has been at the Broncos before in 2017 and it is a season he credits with reviving his love for the game under Wayne Bennett.
I know Wayne still rates him highly and valued the influence he had that year on guys like Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt who learned a lot from him.
He can be a great mentor for the Broncos young playmakers and also offer plenty on the park where Brisbane have struggled with their attack.
The key for Benji is he has played good football for the last couple of years and still has an impact on games.
He still has a big following here in Queensland and came to prominence with Keebra Park High School. The other day Benji was named in the Queensland State Secondary Schools Association team of the century that I was also privileged to get the nod in.
Benji is hoping his career is not over, and so do I.
It has been a remarkable journey for him. To be playing as well as he is in his 18th year in the top grade shows his resilience, and his phenomenal skill set is still on show each week.
Kids everywhere grew up wanting to be Benji.
They imagined themselves stepping, weaving and throwing flick passes to win games.
It is a wonderful legacy he has created and one he can be proud of.