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For & Against: Will Benji make a big impact at Rabbitohs?

Benji Marshall is now at the Bunnies but will the veteran playmaker have a significant impact on their title chances?

There is no doubting the Kiwi international has been playing strongly for Wests Tigers in recent seasons and his arrival late in the off-season could be the final piece in the premiership puzzle for South Sydney.

Or will the Rabbitohs' title chances live and die on their younger stars such as Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, new recruit Jai Arrow and Damien Cook.

NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan and reporter Chris Kennedy debate the merits of Marshall's move to Redfern.

For

NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan

The sidestep may not be quite as mesmerising and the flick pass doesn’t come out as often but Benji Marshall remains as quick between the ears as he was when he took Wests Tigers to the 2005 premiership.

While the smarts are still there, the desire is also still strong and that makes the Kiwi icon a very astute pick-up for Wayne Bennett’s Bunnies, who are knocking on the door of another title.

Will Benji Marshall have big impact at Bunnies?

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After bowing out at the preliminary final stage in the past two seasons there is no shortage of motivation at Redfern, and Marshall’s big-game experience could be the X-factor that carries them to the grand final for the first time since 2014.

Many will question the wisdom of signing a man who will turn 36 before a ball is kicked this season but it’s worth noting Marshall played 56 of a possible 68 games in his last three seasons at the Tigers, so the body hasn’t given out on him just yet.

The Rabbitohs of course are well served in the halves and at hooker with three superstars in Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook.

But with Origin returning to its traditional June-July slot in 2021 the Rabbitohs’ depth will be tested big time when their playmakers come into Blues contention along with Latrell Mitchell and Cameron Murray while Dane Gagai, Jaydn Su’A and Jai Arrow will likely be pulling on Queensland jerseys again.

That’s when Benji’s value to the Rabbitohs will come to the fore as he joins forces with another seasoned pro in Josh Mansour to keep the campaign humming along.

The Rabbitohs face the Knights three days after Origin I and then have the Cowboys and Bulldogs either side of Origin III so Bennett could well be looking rest some of his big names and that’s where Benji's value will be immense.

Even as the Tigers struggled in 2020 the veteran still produced 17 try assists in 16 games, equal with Panthers supremo Nathan Cleary and only one behind Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary.

Lone Scout's bargain buys

Whether the Tigers made the right call in cutting Marshall loose is a question for Michael Maguire but Bennett would not have handed the 324-gamer a lifeline unless he saw huge upside in the one-year deal.

Bennett and Benji joined forces in 2008 when New Zealand pulled off a stunning World Cup triumph and then again in Brisbane in 2017 when the Broncos made it all the way to the preliminary final before bowing out to the Storm.

Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since then but the supercoach is no less astute and Benji no less motivated. Don’t be surprised if they conjure something special at Redfern in 2021.

Analysing the Rabbitohs' 2021 draw

Against

NRL.com reporter Chris Kennedy

Let me say from the outset, I won’t be saying a bad word about Benji Marshall.

From his scintillating on-field play inspiring the next generation of players over the past 18 years, to being an absolute gentleman off it for all of us journos tasked with pestering him for a quote on a weekly basis, he has my respect.

This is not an argument that Marshall no longer has what it takes, but rather an argument that the strength of the club he now calls home will greatly limit his opportunity to make a significant on-field contribution.

Marshall will have an impact on the younger players at the club – it would be impossible to argue he would not. That could end up being his greatest contribution in his final season.

No doubt he will see some game time and with coach Wayne Bennett a huge fan of his talents and generally prone to including a back on the bench anyway, Marshall could start quite a few games off the bench.

The question to me is whether he moves the dial in terms of the club’s hopes for another premiership. They surged to a preliminary finals finish last year and go into this season with four Origin players (two of those Test players) in the four key playmaking spots.

Both halves are probably unlikely to feature in the Origin series mid-year, although Walker is a chance as an incumbent and Reynolds could put himself in the frame with a superb start to the year, particularly if Nathan Cleary has to miss a game through injury.

Marshall will provide crucial back-up to Walker and Reynolds but neither is prone to missing much game time.

Cody Walker's 2020 season highlights

Walker hasn’t missed a game through injury in his NRL career and the only match he has missed since cementing his spot in 2016 was due to Origin or suspension.

Reynolds has played at least 21 games for four successive years and the longest injury layoff in his NRL career was five weeks with a broken jaw in 2016.

Marshall's leadership and experience could still prove telling through what is sure to be a taxing Origin period for the club and regardless it's a win-win for Souths to pick up a player and person of Benji's quality.

But in terms of their requirements or even capacity for him to make a significant on-field impact outside of injuries, he is unlikely to get the game time or responsibility to make a huge impact at Redfern this season on the field.

 

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