Huge Day For NZ Schoolboy

Schoolboy prodigy Benji Marshall watched in awe as Andrew Johns dissected the Kiwis last Friday and he was a little disappointed the Kangaroos and Newcastle playmaker was absent injured when he made his National Rugby League (NRL) debut yesterday.

He started his first-grade career 30 minutes into Wests Tigers' 52-12 demolition of the Knights at Campbelltown Stadium.

Marshall, 17, originally from Whakatane and who was contracted to the Tigers last year while still at school on Queensland's Gold Coast, had a solid debut as the Tigers racked up their biggest ever win against Newcastle.

Marshall, who left New Zealand in 2001, initially played fullback and switched to halfback, where he would have come up against Johns had the star not injured his neck during the Kangaroos' 48-6 romp over the Kiwis.

"They scored after I missed an early tackle but I had a few runs and that got my confidence up. It was good fun," Marshall said.

His confidence was apparent when asked whether he was relieved Johns was not in the opposition.

"It doesn't worry me, I'd play whoever was put in front of me."

Marshall had been told by coach Tim Sheens last week that he would be on the interchange bench.

"There were some nerves but not really. I'd played sevens and a couple of trial matches (for the Tigers earlier this year) and the boys in the team made it a lot easier."

Marshall is back in class at Keebra Park High School on Tuesday studying for his last exams before heading to west Sydney permanently next season.

He supported the Kiwis at Aussie Stadium, was rapt with the All Blacks' 50-21 rugby win over Australia last night, but his allegiance will soon be tested when he turns out against the Junior Kiwis.

Marshall has been selected in the Australian schoolboys team to visit New Zealand in September-October and was coy on where his future might lie.

"Probably New Zealand," he said.

"I'll talk to my parents and see what happens."

Sheens last month tipped the elusive, quick-stepping teenager as a future star, suggesting Marshall could follow in the footsteps of former Penrith and Auckland Warriors player Greg Alexander, who also made his first-grade debut while at school.

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