The 78-year-old leaves New Zealand today to watch his grandson, Wests Tigers five-eighth ' />

Henry Marshall's first overseas trip is no ordinary one.

The 78-year-old leaves New Zealand today to watch his grandson, Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall, play in the NRL final in Sydney on Sunday.

Mr Marshall has been shouted the trip by his 20-year-old league star grandson, who grew up in Whakatane and wanted his grandfather to see the action live when the Tigers met North Queensland at Telstra Stadium.

Yesterday, as Mr Marshall waited to board his first flight ever, from Whakatane to Wellington, he said he was "real excited" about the trip.

"I can't sleep," he said. "Gotta hit me on the head with a hammer."

He said he was initially reluctant to go when Benji called him with the invitation early this week.

"I said, 'Hey, I can watch it here on TV'."

But he was persuaded when his grandson said: "Koro [Grandpa], this is the chance of a lifetime."

Benji is the son of Mr Marshall's youngest daughter from his first marriage, which produced 14 children. Mr Marshall had three more children in a second marriage and now has 54 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

Twelve members of Benji's proud family as well as other relatives and friends from New Zealand are flying to Australia to watch him play.

Benji, whose family also call him Benj, Bunj and Benjamin, lives with his mother Lydia and two brothers in Westmead in Sydney. But his aunt Edith Marshall said he was still close to his whanau in New Zealand.

"When he comes back to Whakatane, he's still Benjamin," she said. "He still does the dishes."

The young player was discovered on a school trip to the Gold Coast in 2000 and has earned immense praise for his form with Wests Tigers this season.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper yesterday tipped him to become "rugby league's hottest property" if his team wins.

It said he could stand to earn up to A$1 million ($1.1 million) and would probably be the face of the NRL's 2006 advertising campaign.

His grandfather, who played league as a teenager, is happy to take the credit for some of his talent.

When asked if he was as fast as Benji in his youth, he replied: "Faster, that's why he's got it."

Marshall's old PE teacher at Whakatane High School said the town kept a close eye on the Tigers' NRL progress, and he'd "absolutely" be watching the big game.
"Everyone who knew Benji growing up on the local fields follows the Tigers now, and love that he's come good and going all the way."

Former school mate and good friend Leon Hahipene said Marshall was already a legend back home.

"[But] he doesn't let success get to him. He's my best mate and the guys always have a good laugh when we see him on TV, in every paper ... we just know him as 'Benj'.

Not only a friend, Mr Hahipene is also a fan.

"He's always been a slippery character on the field. [This weekend's] game is quite late but it's one I'll stay up for."

Marshall's door to the Tigers was opened by teacher Lindsay Knipe, who helps Whakatane High School students ease into life after school.

"Benji has been the one person who would succeed in whatever he attempts. He has that personality and charisma that has made the Aussies love him so much," Mr Knipe said.

"I still very proudly wear my Tigers shirt walking around town. A lady in the supermarket [yesterday] stopped and said, 'Oh, you're a Benji Marshall fan'."

And Marshall is multi-talented, too.

"He's a funny man. And he sings beautifully as well."

Benji Marshall


Age: 20.
Born: Whakatane.
Height: 181cm.
Position: Five-eighth.
First grade debut: 2003, against Newcastle.
This season: played 26 games for 15 tries.
Hobbies: Guitar, watching movies and listening to Delta Goodrem.
How would you spend your last $5: On a rose for Delta.

Source - Wests Tigers website

- additional reporting Derek Cheng