Charley Hoffman

Storm kick off post-Smith era in style

By Brett Graham11 Mar 2021 06:01

Souths centre Campbell Graham had just turned four years old when Benji Marshall first set foot on an NRL field.

Now, nearly 18 years later, they’ll line up as teammates when Marshall makes his Rabbitohs’ debut in tonight’s season opener against Melbourne at AAMI Park.

It’s Marshall’s fifth NRL club, and at the age of 36, presumably his last. But more than a decade-and-a-half after the flick-pass in the 2005 grand final that made him a household name, the former New Zealand captain remains one of the best attacking players in the game.

With Cameron Smith confirming his retirement, Marshall is now the oldest player in the NRL. However, as Immortal Andrew Johns outlined on Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and The Eighth, that won’t stop him having an impact.

“He had some touches in games last year that were just vintage,” said Johns.

“His ball playing has never been a worry, but when he’s got his mind on, there is no better attacking player.

“He’s inspired a generation of young players, in particular young Kiwi players, and it’s great to have him still there.

“He’ll be sensational there at Souths, mentoring some younger players.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by New South Wales coach Brad Fittler, who said Marshall’s career compares favourably with some of the greats.

“He connected a whole generation of young kids, wanting something a little bit more exciting,” he said.

“He was the one they all watched. Speaking about his legacy, his legacy is nearly as good as anyone in the game.

“The fact that he brought something so different to the game.”

The 324-game veteran is on a one-year deal at Souths, and Fittler believes master coach Wayne Bennett will be able to get the best out of Marshall.

“I think he’ll be fantastic for them,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be crucial when you bring him on, unless one of the halves get injured, I don’t know how much centre he could play, Cam Murray normally slots in there, and does a pretty good job.

“I think defending him in the middle will be easier than defending him on the edge, you’ve got less decisions and plenty of people to help you.

“He’ll be great for them.”

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