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17 hours ago
Regularly we hear about a player being the 'next big thing' well before he makes his first grade debut. Rarely however, does that player deliver on that promise in his first game of top flight football.
I will go on record right now, the Wests Tigers have found the superstar they have lacked since Benny Elias. Even 'Balmain Benny' was not quite a true superstar of the game, but in the Tigers 80s successes, Elias stood above the likes of Sironen, Jack, Roach and Pearce as the explosive star of the team.
Fast forward back to 2003, and the Wests Tigers have found their answer to the dilemma commonly known as finding the 'x-factor' for success.
Amazingly, the answer is a 17-year-old school kid from New Zealand via Queensland, by the name of Benji Marshall.
Anybody who caught a glimpse Tigers romp over the disgraceful Knights on Sunday, will agree - Marshall is a heck of a talent with an explosive step that mirrors the Freddie Fittler efforts of the late 80s-early 90s. However, the most impressive aspect of the young cubs play was his involvement level, not his footwork. Far too many young talented players watch and wait for their opportunity to get a touch on the footy to show what they can do. Not so young Marshall, if he wasn't at dummy half, he was first receiver, if he wasn't taking the hit up he was trailing the play and when he did have the ball it was simply breathtaking watching his step change his momentum horizontally rather than diagonally. Involvement is what set this kid apart at Campbelltown on Sunday, not his step, not the hype, but his ability to clearly have the respect of his fellow much older peers and get the ball regularly from them when standing one or two off the ruck. The Tigers players did not hesitate to let Marshall handle the ball and call the shots. Teamwork has always been one of the Tigers strengths and they displayed that superbly on what will be remembered as one of the most exciting Sunday afternoons at Campbelltown in a long time.
His future will be at either half or five-eighth, with the Tigers adding Brett Hodgson and Scott Prince for next season. If Marshall can get a dozen or so games in 2004, the Tigers will have an excellent support game as throughout the game he was constantly on the shoulder of the ball-carrier. Support play is an undervalued quality and if Marshall can hold down a first grade spot the Tigers will reap the benefits.
However, the true test of any young player is their ability to handle media scrutiny. We will not know until next year how this spate of media interest will affect the kid but one thing is for sure his coach Tim Sheens has handled many a future superstar before.
Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Bradley Clyde... last time I checked their development from future star to superstar was done so under the watchful eye of one Tim Sheens.
Tigers fans rejoice, Benji Marshall is the general of your future march into the finals after so many years of constant disappointment.