Benji Marshall prepares to take on Wests Tigers
It is the day no one saw coming: Benji Marshall versus the Wests Tigers.
He pledged never to line up against the club he led to premiership glory in 2005 but, after a short and unsuccessful stint in rugby union, the one-time poster boy of the Tigers will do battle with his former team for the first time at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
For the most part of a decade, he and Tigers skipper Robbie Farah were the face of the joint venture.
And while Marshall's break-up with the club at the end of last season was met with mixed reactions from the Tigers faithful, Farah is hoping he gets the respect he deserves from the supporters after the legacy he left at the club he made his debut with as a teenager back in 2003.
"I'm not too sure, but I'd like to think he'll still get a good reception from our supporters," Farah said.
"The way it all finished probably left a sour taste with some of the fans. But regardless of that he still left a great legacy at this club and that's what he should be remembered for. [His legacy is] not tarnished in my eyes but that's something you'd have to ask the fans.
"While his last 12 months he'd be the first to admit it wasn't his best footy, but what he achieved at this club ... we had a gala night the other night with the team of the 15 years and he's a big part of that. In another 15 years I have no doubt it will take a pretty special player to knock him out of that side. That's what he should be remembered for."
On a perfect Sunday afternoon at the Sydney Cricket Ground last year, the Tigers marked the changing of a guard when they switched Marshall to the centres to accommodate for the debut of Luke Brooks against St George Illawarra.
It is ironic that almost a year later, Marshall finds himself in opposition colours up against the player who has been earmarked as the successor to the former face of the merged club.
"It was obviously a dream of mine to play with him, but I think it will be weird to play against him," Brooks said.
"It'll be pretty special. It's going to be a tough one for us because he's a great player and has really hit his form now. You always thought he'd stay with the Tigers but it didn't turn out that way. It'll be pretty weird, especially with the boys who played him for a long time. But that's footy and that happens these days."
Farah admits he expected to finish his career alongside Marshall but holds no grudges against the 29-year-old, who he insists will have a point to prove come Sunday afternoon in what is a pivotal clash in the finals hopes of both teams.
"I just never saw the day coming," Farah said.
"I always expected we'd play out our careers together. I still remember when he called me to tell me that he'd made his decision to leave. But we move on from that. We supported his decision at the time and we still support him. He's obviously not a teammate any more but he's still a mate. Regardless of that, next week for the 80 minutes there are no mates on the field and we'll be trying to get the two points as they will. That's what footy is about, then after the game you shake hands and you're mates again.
"It wasn't nice the way it ended for him. I know he would have wanted to play his career out at the Tigers. He probably never saw the day coming, and he even went on record saying he never wanted to play against the Tigers but due to circumstances with things not working out for him at rugby, that's the way it has panned out. There's no doubt he'll be wanting to get one up against us."
Then there's Mitch Moses, who Marshall texted before his NRL debut three weeks ago to congratulate him on his achievement.
"Benji taught me a lot when he was at the club," Moses said.
"He was a big influence on me. He'd always pull me aside and give me a few pointers on my game and stuff. He was a pretty big influence on my development.
"He was a role model to me. When I came into the top squad that first year, he was a big influence on my football. He was a lot of help. He contacted me before I made my debut and said congratulations and that I deserved it. I thought that was pretty good of him to send me a text."
Sydney Morning Herald