Benji bows out: Marshall retires after 19 years of wizardry

Fighting through tears, an emotional Benji Marshall has called time on one of the most memorable careers of the modern era.

After 346 NRL games, 19 seasons, 31 Tests for New Zealand, four clubs, five shoulder reconstructions, a couple of last hurrahs, one title and a famous flick pass that spoke to hundreds of equally audacious plays, Marshall is officially done - morphing him from a teen pin-up to elder statesman.

The 36-year-old confirmed his retirement on Wednesday afternoon on the Gold Coast, 10 minutes from the Keebra Park High School stomping ground where those twinkling toes first came to rugby league's attention.

While South Sydney had salary cap space set aside for Marshall to continue into 2022 as a bench utility and halves mentor once more, he will bow out after one last revival alongside departing coach Wayne Bennett.

Marshall's Redfern stint ended with a return to the grand final stage a record 16 years after spearheading the Wests Tigers' only premiership triumph - the Rabbitohs came perilously close on Sunday night against Penrith to sending him out in the same fashion.

Thirteen seasons with the Tigers will always be the start and end point with Marshall given the indelible impact he had on both the club and code, his freewheeling football inspiring a generation of young fans.

Even with the two ugly exits that led Marshall briefly to rugby union in 2013 and then the Rabbitohs eight years later, no one has made a bigger contribution in the Wests Tigers' history.

But with rebirths at first the Dragons, then Brisbane when few other than Bennett thought he could still keep up, the Tigers again and finally South Sydney, Marshall has endured across almost two decades in the toughest of sporting competitions.

When surgeons took a bone graft from his hip to reconstruct his shoulder for a fifth time in 2008, they told him another operation would be the last of his footballing career.

Thirteen years on, Marshall's 346 NRL outings place him eighth on the list for most games played in Australian premiership history.

It has required a step back from the freakish flourishes that put a teenaged Marshall on the map from his first NRL moments – after making his 2003 debut against Newcastle he returned to school at Keebra Park the next day.

The timing of his grand final flick pass to Pat Richards a few years later made it his most memorable, but on any given day similar plays were at least attempted if not landed.

The "Benji Marshall step" first started with him pretending to beat passers by in the street as a young Kiwi kid.

Soon enough it was its own entity.

Trials, spats, falling outs, reconciliations, injuries and simply miles both in the legs and between the ears have matured Marshall along the way.

While Bennett had all but retired Marshall in his post-preliminary final media conference, the old playmaker refused to confirm his future throughout grand final week to ensure the limelight remained on the Rabbitohs as a whole.

Now after a career that has delivered so much entertainment, yet one few would've seen enduring so long, Marshall is deservedly stepping out for good.


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Dan Walsh, Reporter