Benji's curtain call earns standing ovation

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 08:38 20/07/2013
Benji Marshall
Getty Images
BENJI MARSHALL: The longtime league star hopes to finish his career in the code with another World Cup win for NZ.

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Benji Marshall's curtain call at Leichhardt Oval drew a standing ovation, even if the Wests Tigers' star attraction could not script the perfect ending to the start of his farewell tour.

A brief chant of "Thank You, Thank You" even reverberated around the quaint suburban ground's main stand before Marshall thanked the crowd for support he feared would not materialise.

Yet from the moment he was first out of the tunnel to warm-up for last night's NRL clash with the New Zealand Warriors it was clear the fans were on Marshall's side -- he would avoid censure for his decision to seek an early release to explore a career move to rugby.

Supporters united behind the five-eighth who now has only seven matches left at the joint venture, barring an unlikely qualification for the post-season.

The Warriors 24-14 victory -- just their second triumph at the venue since 1995 -- damaged those aspirations, and unfortunately Marshall potentially harmed his prospects of securing a lucrative rugby contract with another performance that gave credence to the management's refusal to accede to his contract extension.

Marshall, who meets with Blues coach Sir John Kirwan tomorrow, would not critique his performance after a match where the Warriors recovered from a 14-6 halftime deficit to score 18 unanswered points, due mainly to a classy performance by Shaun Johnson.

He sat suited up in the dressing room, chatting and being photographed with fans, a relaxed conclusion to a tumultuous week.

It was left to coach Mick Potter and veteran forward Liam Fulton to assess the 28-year-old's contribution and despite the esteem in which Marshall is held, they could not be over-enthusiastic.

Marshall's first touch was a loose pass to James Tedesco; he set up the opening try for David Nofoaluma but barely posed an offensive threat from that point although his defence was steadfast.

"I thought Benji was OK, perhaps a couple of his last plays could have been better but there was some really good plays," said Potter.

"What happened in the second half was we needed to play and move the ball and come up with plays and we kept digging a bigger hole for ourselves. Consequently our ball players tend to look a little worse than you normally are because you're chasing the game."

Fulton, who attended the post-match press conference on behalf of exhausted NSW State of Origin skipper Robbie Farah, said the squad tried to focus in the lead-up despite Marshall's desire to quit two years before his contract lapsed.

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"It would have been tougher for Benji, he probably didn't know how the crowd were going to react to him. He was pretty emotional all week.

"That probably wasn't the reason why we lost, I thought he went alright."

Potter was pleased with the Wests Tigers start but lamented a lack of urgency when Thomas Leuluai put up a bomb that led to Konrad Hurrell's try early in the second half.

"That set straight after halftime was significant in that it set the tone for the second half.

"There was always one tackle we were a bit loose on, one bit of technique we weren't quite good enough on."

Warriors' coach Matt Elliott was unhappy with the physicality displayed in the first half but praised his team for addressing that deficiency as they carried the ball 792-metres in the second compared to their hosts 612m.

The Warriors completion rate was an impressive 81 per cent over the match compared to the Wests Tigers' meagre 58pc.

"It's not often you don't show the right physical intent in the first half and be able to turn that around but our guys certainly did that and we kept a side that played pretty creative football to nil in the second half," Elliott said.

Johnson, who scored two tries -- including a 90m run away -- and set-up Simon Mannering's match-winner again indicated there is life after Marshall for the Kiwis, as the World Cup looms.

"Shaun came up with some pretty striking plays," Elliott smiled.

"I'm over the moon for him, he's starting to learn the more responsibility he takes, the better he plays."

- Fairfax Media

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