Chris Rattue: Singing praises of majestic Marshall

The Kiwis and their wonderful skipper, Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images
The Kiwis and their wonderful skipper, Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images

We love you Benji, we dooooo, we love you Benji, we doooooo ...

This is not a nation which sings to footballers and given the way we murder-by-mumbling a national anthem that is a dead beat anyway, things are best this way.

If there is a player who might get the national vocal cords twanging, Benji Marshall is the one.

The Wizard of Wests was up to his usual tricks again on Saturday night, starring for the Kiwis against a useless England league side in Wellington.

Do you have a No 1 footballer?

For me, Marshall gets the nod because of his style.

In 40-odd years of watching our major codes, Richie McCaw easily stands out, operating at unbelievable levels and dominating virtually every game he plays. Rugby should build a statue to McCaw one day.

But the one who stirs the greatest anticipation, who invariably gets the heart racing, is Marshall. To steal the self-proclaimed title of a certain Portuguese soccer coach, Marshall is a Special One.

There is nothing he cannot conjure up with the ball in hand, nor a crowd of defenders he cannot turn into bewildered spectators.

I seem to recall that Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, said that the key to soccer was still imagination. This should be the case for all sports, yet there is such limited time and space in union and league these days that to dare can be to lose.

It's all very well having the thoughts, but putting them into action at this level is a different matter.

Stephen Larkham, the unique Wallaby first five-eighths, would be high on my list of favourites, along with his compatriot Mark Ella, league legend Wally Lewis, and the Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater.

Boyhood memories mean that nobody will ever replace Bryan Williams in this sporting heart, and when you start trundling down these lanes, names pop up all over the place - Christian Cullen certainly being one and Sid Going another. And what about Stacey Jones?

Marshall tops the lot for me, though. Maybe only Carlos Spencer in his truncated prime could compare, but Marshall is more effective and prolific.

Every time those extendable legs start loping across defensive lines in the manner of a crazy giraffe, you know something fantastic is in the offing.

The feints, the teasing, the timing of his passes into holes, the flick pass, the long pass, the no-look pass, the backing up ... the sheer exuberant imagination of it all is thrilling as barrel-chested hit men hunt Marshall down.

Hey kids - do try this at home, because this is what sport should be all about.

Tim Sheens, the veteran Wests Tigers coach, deserves credit for promoting the Marshall game. There will always be the odd stuff-up when you play this way, dud games even. But considering the rare devilment there are not too many duds from Marshall.

For many of us, our own best sporting moments were in the playground, where you attempted a magic usually unattainable on the field. Marshall actually plays the game of our dreams. He delivers on the fantasy.

His try against England on Saturday was sensational, from the set up to the finish which involved creating a corridor to the tryline where none existed.

Benji Marshall is compulsory viewing, unlike English league.

The Super League can be a good watch and their fans and ground atmospheres are second to none.

However the English - who rely on imports to drive their club sides - are producing less of their own star power, especially in the backs, by the year.

The best they have to offer are a few excellent forwards led by Gareth Ellis, one of the top troops in the NRL, and the absent Jamie Peacock.

But a country that has paraded clever players of glamour and character such as Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory, Andy Farrell and Martin Offiah has lost its way in a big way.

The blinkered Australian clubs have hardly promoted test league, but the real international problem is that England has lost its mojo.

English rugby league sits back as the underdogs, happy with the plaudits when they nick a win here and there. They have the richest professional league yet their test achievements are poor.

The Kiwis were excellent on Saturday, although hardly tested. Stephen Kearney has found his feet as an international coach and selector, and in the likes of Marshall and Jeremy Smith, he has a core in the tradition of Ruben Wiki, Nigel Vagana and Co.

The only complaint on Saturday night - those horrible jerseys.

How on earth can the Kiwis take the field without a Kiwi on the chest?

They wore what looked like fake All Black jerseys. Bad fakes. Bring back the Kiwi and the big white V. Please.

- NZ Herald

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