Sport, best of the year: 7 Benji Marshall

By David Leggat

It ranks as one of the oddball highpoints of the NRL year.

Anyone who saw Australian commentator Phil Gould's halftime explanation of Benji Marshall's brilliant orchestration of Wests Tigers wing Pat Richards' try in the Grand Final victory over the Cowboys won't forget it in a hurry.

Gould, former State of Origin and Roosters coach and noted big-mouth, looked fit to combust as he raved over Marshall not just setting up the try with a dazzling run and deft backhand flick pass, but then getting back in play to support Richards as he roared towards the line.

To be fair to Gould, it was among the stellar moments of the season and, applying the old standard, was a classic example of the best players standing tall on the biggest stages.

Marshall, an articulate 20-year-old raised in Whakatane, was low-key about how the pass came about.

"I didn't even plan it, so it came out of my arse, I suppose," was his deadbeat assessment.

Noted league writer and former top coach Roy Masters described Marshall as "the mad monk of helter-skelter football".

Certainly he's not short on confidence and is prepared to try things off the cuff, and that's why he's invariably a threat to opposing defences which largely cater for organised attacking lines.

Marshall brings the unexpected, and opposing defences don't like that.

He was, with halfback Scott Prince, the fulcrum of Wests' remarkable run to the title. Now he's among the hottest properties in the game. Why? Because allied to his rich talent, he makes fans dream.

He is one of those rare players who can pull you out of your seat. One of those who makes you shout, "Hey kids, come and take a look at this" as he pulls off one of those double-sidestep-in-mid-air moves which seem to defy Newton's law of gravity, not to mention bending a few other rules of physics.

Marshall also accomplished the tricky part of being what Americans are fond of calling a phenom: that is, having displayed his gifts last year, he was able to avoid being muzzled by the opposition hard men and make telling contributions for his team in his second full year.

He missed the Tri-Nations and will spend the New Year recovering from shoulder surgery. He'll get his chance.

Marshall was named rookie of the year at the New Zealand Rugby League awards. He has re-signed with the Tigers until 2008. At which point, you can be sure, clubs will be talking telephone numbers to secure him.

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