06 October 2021
Fighting through tears, an emotional Benji Marshall has called time on one of the most memorable careers of the modern era.
After 346 NRL games (the most of any Kiwi), 19 seasons, 31 Tests for New Zealand, four clubs, five shoulder reconstructions, a couple of last hurrahs, one title and a famous flick pass that spoke to hundreds of equally audacious plays, Marshall is officially done – morphing him from a teen pin-up to elder statesman.
The 36-year-old confirmed his retirement on Wednesday afternoon on the Gold Coast, 10 minutes from the Keebra Park High School stomping ground where those twinkling toes first came to rugby league’s attention.
“I feel privileged and honoured with what the game has given me and the life it has given me. I want to thank the NRL for letting me be part of this great game,” he said.
“I would’ve been retired seven years ago if it wasn’t for Wayne giving me the opportunity at Brisbane.
“I started as just a young kid from Whakatane who was chasing his dreams and will leave as a better man who reached those dreams. I cannot thank rugby league enough for everything it has given me.
“I am extremely proud of my career. I’m proud of the longevity of playing 19 seasons, proud of winning a premiership, proud to represent my country and to win a World Cup, and I’m proud of winning a Golden Boot too.
“But the thing of which I’m most proud is the countless times I have had to pick myself up and fight back from the many setbacks that were thrown at me throughout my career.”
A unique attacking talent whose arrival electrified the NRL and international scenes, Benji Marshall spearheaded some of New Zealand’s greatest Test triumphs from five-eighth and enjoyed a four-season stint as skipper.
Marshall later broke the Kiwis record for most Tests as captain (21) and equalled the mark for the longest Test career span (15 seasons) after memorably ending a seven-year hiatus from the national side in 2019.
The Whakatane-born touch rugby prodigy took up a rugby league scholarship with Keebra Park State High at the age 16 after starring in an impromptu trial appearance while on a school excursion to the Gold Coast.
The sliding doors opportunity would have an enormous impact on the code on both sides of the Tasman. An 18-year-old Marshall represented Australian Schoolboys and made his NRL debut for Wests Tigers – who were linked to Keebra Park – in 2003.
Marshall’s mesmerising footwork, speed and instinctive ball-playing caught the public’s imagination from the outset, but a shoulder injury cut his 2004 season short after just seven first-grade appearances.
But everything came together in 2005. After a sizzling start to the year with the Tigers – and still with only 15 NRL games under his belt – Marshall was called up to New Zealand’s Anzac Test squad. The 20-year-old’s eye-catching display was hailed as the biggest positive of the Kiwis’ 32-16 loss in Brisbane.
Marshall then set about compiling an astonishing highlights package in steering the unheralded Tigers to their first finals series and an unlikely premiership triumph. The hot-stepping No.6 scored 15 tries in 27 games, while he produced one of the most iconic moments in grand final history in the 32-16 defeat of North Queensland with a long break and an audacious flick pass to set up Pat Richards’ try.
Shoulder surgery ruled Marshall out of the Kiwis’ victorious Tri-Nations tour at the end of ’05, but he was selected on the bench for the 2006 Anzac Test despite a fractured cheekbone and dislocated shoulder disrupting the start of his NRL season. Genuine concerns emerged about Marshall’s future, though, after ongoing shoulder problems ended his 2006 campaign in June and caused him to miss half of 2007. He was unavailable for New Zealand’s end-of-year international series in both years.
The Kiwis boasted two of rugby league’s most dynamic young superstars in Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams but ultimately the pair lined up together just twice – in the 2006-07 Anzac Tests, with Marshall featuring at five-eighth in the latter. He was again absent for the 2008 Centenary Test against Australia at the SCG through injury but recovered to play in the Tigers’ last 16 games of the season.
Marshall scored two tries in a World Cup warm-up Test against Tonga and started all five of the Kiwis’ matches at the Australia-hosted tournament. He scored a match-sealing try in the 32-22 semi-final victory over England, before playing a leading hand in the 34-20 boilover against the Kangaroos in the Brisbane final. Marshall’s burst and offload set up a fortuitous first-half try for Jerome Ropati, he was on hand to scoop up Australian fullback Billy Slater’s errant pass and score a pivotal four-pointer after the break, his bomb led to Adam Blair’s late clincher and he booted two goals.
The Kiwis installed Marshall as their new captain in 2009. The early-season loss to Australia in Brisbane was to be the first of 18 straight appearances as Test skipper, leading New Zealand on its Four Nations tour of England and France at the end of the year.
Fourth in the 2010 Dally M Medal count as the Tigers returned to the playoffs for the first time since their grand final success, Marshall subsequently enjoyed arguably his finest hour on the international stage. He scored a try and kicked four goals in the Four Nations-opening win over England in Wellington, booted another eight goals in a heavy defeat of Papua New Guinea in Rotorua and brilliantly set up two tries in a late comeback as well as slotting four goals in a loss to Australia at Eden Park.
But Marshall almost singlehandedly lifted his side to a 16-12 triumph over the Kangaroos in the final as the Kiwis again reigned at Suncorp Stadium. He put Shaun Kenny-Dowall over for New Zealand’s only try of the first half, cut the deficit to two points via a breath-taking grubber for Jason Nightingale to score, and produced two magnificent touches in the extraordinary 65-metre match-winner finished off by Nathan Fien in the 79th minute. Marshall capped a banner year by becoming just the third New Zealander to win the Golden Boot award.
Marshall was named Dally M Five-eighth of the Year in 2011, took out his second RLIF Five-eighth of the Year honour (a gong he also collected in 2009) and was named the Kiwis’ Player of the Year, but five Tests garnered just one win – against Wales during the Four Nations. He led the Kiwis in both matches of a minimised 2012 schedule: Tests losses to Australia in April and October by eight-point margins.
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney announced in February 2013 that Marshall would no longer be captain, while an injury ruled him out of contention for the Canberra clash with the Kangaroos two months later – ending a run of 24 straight Tests. Meanwhile, his relationship with Wests Tigers unravelled and he sought a release to join the Blues Super Rugby franchise. It was a sad conclusion to a decade-long tenure with the Tigers that saw him become the first player to bring up 1,000 points and the third to make 200 appearances for the joint venture. The code switch also quashed any prospect of Marshall being picked in New Zealand’s RLWC squad.
The 29-year-old was back in the NRL with St George Illawarra by May 2014. He finished equal-second in the Dally M Medal count as the Dragons reached the finals in 2015.
After an impressive season as a back-up half/utility under Wayne Bennett at the Broncos in 2017, Marshall accepted a deal to return to the Tigers. He had lost a yard or two of pace and the mind-blowing attacking wizardry was less frequent, but the veteran’s calm leadership and direction was invaluable for a rebuilding club.
Unlucky not to get a call-up in 2018, the 34-year-old was named by Tigers and Kiwis coach Michael Maguire for the 2019 mid-season Test against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium. Marshall’s outpouring of emotion during the New Zealand national anthem was the indelible memory of the match, but he was also a strong performer at halfback in the 34-14 win.
Marshall – who also became just the fourth New Zealander to play over 300 NRL games during 2019 – rounded off a remarkable renaissance by being named Kiwis captain at the end of the season for the Tests against Australia and Great Britain. The third-oldest Kiwis player in history, he broke Gary Freeman’s record for most Tests as New Zealand skipper and equalled Kurt Sorensen (1975-89) for the longest Test career span.
Date of Birth: 25 February 1985Place of Birth: Whakatane, NZPosition: Five-eighth/HalfbackHeight: 183cmWeight: 92kgJunior Club: Keebra ParkClubs: Rabbitohs (2021); Tigers (2003-13, 2018-20); Broncos (2017); Dragons (2014-16); Auckland Blues RU (2014)NRL Games: 346 (22 for the Rabbitohs, 257 for the Tigers, 54 for the Dragons and 13 for the Broncos. Also played six Super Rugby matches for Auckland Blues RU)NRL Points: 1232 (from 12 points for the Rabbitohs [three tries], 1181 points for Tigers [84 tries, 416 goals, 13 field goals], 35 points for Dragons [eight tries and three field goals] and four points for Broncos [from one try]. Also scored ten points for Auckland Blues RU from one try, one conversion and one penalty goal)NRL Debut: Tigers vs Knights, Campbelltown Stadium, 27 July 2003 (Rd 20)
NRL Premierships: One (2005 – Tigers)Rep Honours: 31 Tests for New Zealand (2005-19); World Cup (2008-champions); Four Nations (2009-11); four games for NRL All Stars (2010-13); one game for Maori All Stars (2021)Awards and Honours: 21 Tests as New Zealand captain (2009-19); NRL most capped New Zealand-born player of all-time (346 games); Golden Boot (2010); Dally M Five-eighth of the Year (2011); RLIF Five-eighth of the Year (2009, 2011); Inducted as a Life Member of Wests Tigers (2013); Wests Tigers player #70; Brisbane Broncos player #226; St George Illawarra Dragons player #181; South Sydney Rabbitohs player #1167; New Zealand Kiwis player #717