Benji Marshall was told he was too small, too slow and that his sidestep and flick pass wouldn’t be effective in the NRL.
But after a 19-year career in which he achieved everything in the game, few players can claim to have had as great an influence on kids wanting to play rugby league than the Kiwi superstar.
Now Marshall wants to encourage others to follow their dreams like he did and is hosting a charity event at Leichhardt Oval on Friday, December 17 featuring appearances and performances by NRL stars, Olympian Cate Campbell and The Wiggles.
Marshall’s "Dream Big" charity event will also include a performance by aspiring Sydney-based singer Noora H, which he said was a real-life example of someone being afforded an opportunity to fulfil their ambitions.
“Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to chase your dreams; if you work hard enough you can achieve your goals and we are showing that through a lot of different people who were told when they were young that they wouldn’t make it,” Marshall said.
“That’s why I am with the charity, because it reminds me of when I was a kid. I grew up poor, I didn’t have a lot of money or opportunities, but I moved out of home when I was 15, I chased my dream and I worked hard.
“Everyone told me that I was never going my make it, my steps were ugly, my flick passes were low percentage and next minute I am playing NRL for 19 years.
“They said I couldn’t tackle, I was too slow … I heard it all. ‘You are just a little Maori boy who should stay at home’, but I proved them all wrong.
“It doesn’t matter what colour you are, where you are from, what your background is, how much money you have got, if you want to work hard enough and you want to dream big go for it.”
The Wiggles, Isaiah Firebrace and Chris Sebastian will also perform, along with Noora H.
“As we are presenting these messages we have got a girl with us who is proof,” Marshall said.
“Noora is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab and she has been knocked back so many times because of the way she looks.
“She is an amazing singer, she can sing like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. She is talented and isn’t going to change for anyone.
“We are giving her the chance to live her dream by performing on the stage with so many other performers in front of a big crowd. She is going to have a crack and hopefully something comes of it.”
Actor Vince Collosimo and radio duo Will and Woody will also be involved, along with the cast of Celebrity Apprentice Australia, which will feature Marshall in 2022.
“There is going to be lots of giveaways, lots of prizes and lots of things for charity,” Marshall said. “Some of the footy boys are going to come, whoever can and whoever is allowed, and we will be just giving away signed footies and signed merchandise for donations.”