As Benji Marshall tried on the Kiwis uniform on Monday afternoon, he had to do a double take.

The squad assembled in their inner city Auckland hotel for photo shoots, with the usual buzz in the air as the team comes together from across the NRL.

But no one, not even the rookies, were more excited than Marshall, as the reality of his fairytale recall began to sink in.

"I had to look in the mirror twice to be honest, because it's been a long time obviously," said Marshall, as he wore the black and white V for the first time since 2012. "I wanted to play for the Kiwis over the years, but being hopeful and being realistic are two different things."

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In January Marshall made a list of things he wanted to achieve over the next 12 months. A Kiwis recall was on that list, though it was more of a 'shoot for the moon, land among the stars' scenario.

"At the start of the year I set a goal of playing for the Kiwis," said Marshall. "But I was also thinking, if I push myself [towards that], that will translate to playing good footy. I really didn't expect it."

Despite being affected by injury, Marshall has been turning heads this season. He looks fit and sharp — thanks to a strong pre-season — which has translated into performance and confidence on the field.

But he was still stunned early last week, when Michael Maguire called him into his office for a chat after Tigers training.

Benji Marshall. Photo /www.photosport.nz
Benji Marshall. Photo /www.photosport.nz

"I wasn't expecting it at all," said Marshall. "He said 'mate, I'm going to bring you into the [wider] squad for the Kiwis. I've always wanted to play for the Kiwis again but I never thought it would happen. I've always made myself available and would never say no to the black jersey. But I was just so proud of just being in the [wider] squad, just being among the 27."

"I preach to a lot of kids about setting goals that might seem like they are unachievable, but it doesn't matter how far fetched they might sound, if you set them, you give yourself a realistic chance of striving towards that."

If that news was enough to get Marshall buzzing, what came next was dancing on the ceiling level.

Around lunchtime last Saturday, the 34-year-old took a call from Maguire.

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Marshall was still in Townsville — his golden point field goal had lifted the Tigers to a vital win the night before — while Maguire, on his way to New Zealand, had just been informed that Kodi Nikorima was unavailable through injury.

"He rang me and said "You're playing", recalled Marshall. "I didn't know what to say. I didn't think I would be playing because with Kodi and Shaun [Johnson] being the incumbents, I don't know if that would have been the right thing to do, with the World Cup coming up [in 2021]. Now I'm just going to go for it."

Marshall was almost close to a few tears as he reflected on what it meant, especially to his nearest and dearest.

"My family reaction has been, well it gets a bit emotional," said Marshall. "Because they have believed the whole time and it is about doing them proud. Getting back here reminds me of why I started playing, which was to represent my family.

Marshall is one of league's great survivors. He endured several shoulder operations as a teenager, and many wondered if he could handle the rigours of the NRL.

But he still going, though admits he has changed considerably since his last Kiwis outing in October 2012.

"[My] leadership qualities have gone to another level," said Marshall. "I'm a lot more mature, I've become a Dad and I am just really grateful that I am still playing first grade after 17 years.

"I'm appreciating the job we have every day. I'm not on big money or anything but the fact is that is not the point. I'm playing to prove a point to myself, and out of love."