Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: We all said goodbye to the real Benji long ago

Benji Marshall of the Dragons looks dejected during the round 25 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the St George Illawarra Dragons. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall of the Dragons looks dejected during the round 25 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the St George Illawarra Dragons. Photo / Getty Images

The Dragons are doing their best to give Benji Marshall a fitting farewell, but we all had to say goodbye to the real Benji some time ago.

No footballer, in any code, has given this punter more pleasure to watch. At his best, Marshall was not only a wizard, but a winning one.

Carlos Spencer, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Campese, George Best (as seen on murky video)...Benji Marshall resides in my pantheon of footballers whose ability to turn stunning imagination into reality puts them above the rest.

Benji was Spencer in overdrive. Nobody could squirm out of a tackle like Benji, but that was just one of his many tricks. His skipping runs, sidesteps, swerves, hop-skip-and-jumps, no-look passes, reverse passes, cut-out passes, speed, backing up, tricky kicks...they will never be forgotten and it took courage to produce them after a series of serious shoulder injuries.

Watching his greatest moments brought a lump to the throat, a shiver up the spine. The famous 2005 Pat Richards grand final try, which helped the Tigers beat the Cowboys, was among them. There was even a miraculous try save.

As the Dragons great Mark Gasnier said this week, league no longer rewards the most talented teams - Gasnier was even brave enough to say the game favoured "boring" sides. Benji was among the very few who kept the flame of sensational skill alive and he gave kids something very special to aspire to.

The last few years have not been overly kind to Marshall - he's lost the edge which made him so amazing. And while he tasted some significant international glory, including World Cup triumph, his off-the-cuff wizardry didn't always translate well into the hastily-prepared, forever changing Kiwis line-up.

But in his heyday, watching the Tigers was an invitation to sporting fantasy land. You think Jarryd Hayne or Shaun Johnson are the be all and end all of supreme skill...check out those Marshall clips and you will think again. The sheer exuberance was stunning.

The Dragons have recalled Marshall to first grade for the final match of the year, before he departs to an uncertain future. Given the Newcastle Knight's horrible defence, he has a chance to dance down memory lane on Saturday evening. It might be close to curtains for Bouncing Benji. So from one of your many devoted fans, thanks for the best of sporting memories.

All power to Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sits down during the anthem in protest at America's oppression of people of colour. Talk about amazing courage...

You don't have to look far to see what Kaepernick is protesting about. The supposed leader of the free world has let many of its own citizens down disgracefully while preaching to the rest of the planet. Kaepernick wants to stand against the oppression not for it, which is patriotism in a real form.

I hit the mute button anyway when the national anthems are playing before sports contests, because I've heard it all before and it comes across as just another sporting sales pitch in these days of relentless spin. And while this is certainly an amazing country to live in, it's not without faults and I don't actually "love" it more than many other countries.

All that hand on heart rubbish I can live without. Sport's willingness, even desperation, to link with the military is also appalling. And where has all this cookie-cutter patriotism got the world anyway? Good on Kaepernick. Do we actually value free speech, or just free speech which fits a popular narrative?

Who knows how to fix the Warriors but...

...have said it before, and will say it again. It's time to move on from the Manu Vatuvei era. Big Manu has been an iconic and unique Auckland sporting figure, and deserves his many fans. But he makes too many errors, and this is one of the major hurdles to turning the club around. Because of his status, the Warriors have probably got too much money tied up on the wing.

Against the Wests Tigers, Vatuvei inexplicably lost the ball on a break with a 12-point lead in the offing. At the end, he allowed a bomb to bounce, and then reacted slowly as the Tigers nailed their final try. It's just not good enough, again.

Knowing when to move famous, admired and influential players on is a vital part of any successful club. Vatuvei represents the antithesis of the amazing Melbourne Storm culture, where a core of senior players set very high standards which inspire the rest. It doesn't mean the Warriors have to play dull percentage football, but they do need to be more consistent and precise. Sorry to say, Vatuvei has been a block to that.

And finally...on All Black prop Owen Franks and the face-scraping incident involving Wallaby Kane Douglas.

Franks should have been cited. There should have been a hearing. It's as simple as that. Like many dominant teams, the All Blacks probably do get the odd break. But that was a break too far. Franks may have been exonerated at a hearing, but justice in all its fallibility needed to be done.

- NZ Herald

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