BENJI Marshall knows what people think of him.
“They think I’m cocky. They think I’m arrogant,” he told NRL.com on his first day of training back with the Wests Tigers on Thursday.
“They think I’m not good for culture of teams.”
It’s for this reason Marshall orchestrated his return on his own. This has been almost two years in the making. Two years since he picked up the phone and began plotting his homecoming.
Marshall knew it couldn’t be done through a manager - that would send the wrong message. It had to be about what he could do for the Tigers, not the other way around.
“People have a pre-conceived idea of what sort of person I am,” Marshall said.
“Because I play with confidence, people think I’m arrogant. Because I play so out there, people think that’s arrogance. The way I come across with the confidence, people mistake that. The common thing I hear going to new clubs is ‘oh, man I thought you were so different to what you are’. I hear it at every club I go to.
“People are genuinely surprised. That spins me out. The Tigers said this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t reach out. They didn’t know me. I think they might have judged me before they met me. After meeting them, I think they were a bit shocked as to how I was coming across because of what they thought.”
Marshall called Cleary not long after he joined the club. The Tigers entertained the idea of bringing him across from the Broncos mid-season as a replacement for Mitchell Moses, but Wayne Bennett didn’t want to release him.
The Kiwi veteran didn’t give up. He organised to have a coffee with Cleary while the Broncos were in Sydney during the season.
It’s then he outlined how he could contribute to the change Cleary was implementing. That despite a perception he may have been toxic for team culture, he in fact could provide the very thing the coach wanted from his senior players.
Marshall spoke about leadership and culture. He spoke about the guidance he could provide the young halves and the advice he could pass down.
“Those are my biggest assets. I came up with a plan of where I would fit into the team in terms of those things,” Marshall said.
“But I also made it pretty clear that I don’t just want to be here just for that.”
It’s what the Tigers wanted to hear. They didn’t want a player whose main concern was about coming home to restore his own legacy and build a life after football.
Yes, the Tigers realised the off-field potential his signing would have on the organisation, but it was always about football.
Marshall was given no guarantees. That’s the way he wanted it.
But he did make a guarantee of his own, vowing to do everything he could to convince the coach he was worth a spot in his side.
“I said ‘mate, at the end of the day you’re the coach and I just want to be part of the team,” he said.
“I said ‘mate, at the end of the day you’re the coach and I just want to be part of the team."
“I don’t care where that is. If it’s in the 17 it is, and if it’s not, then I’ll force my way in there somewhere. Ivan was pretty clear in the first meeting. He told me that he’d promised Josh [Reynolds] and Brooksy [Luke Brooks] that they would be the halves to start the season. I have no problems with that. I also have no problems playing reserve grade. I did that in Brisbane and actually enjoyed it. If it happens here, it happens.
“There were probably times in my career when I was here before that I needed to do that and go down to reserve grade to find a bit of confidence. If Ivan feels like I need to be there and don’t deserve to be in the 17 then that’s fine. But I’m going to push him to pick me.”
Bennett did for Marshall what very few before managed to do. He was honest.
He told Marshall what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear.
Marshall knows there were times throughout his time at the Tigers when that wasn’t the case.
“For other people, I don’t think there was a lot of honesty back then,” Marshall said.
“I thought I was going better than what I was but no one here was telling me that I wasn’t. Wayne was great for me.
“He encouraged me to throw flick passes and chip and chase and play how I want to play. I think the few years before that some people wanted me to play a bit more structured, but that wasn’t really me.”
Marshall’s exit from the Tigers was one of the darkest days in the joint venture’s short history.
The poster boy that led the club to its only premiership in 2005 was out the door after falling out with club management.
“The thing I was frustrated with was that I agreed to a contract here for five years,” Marshall said.
“After that the CEO moved on and the new CEO didn’t want to honour that contract. That was probably the hardest thing to take for me. In saying that, I needed the change. I needed to grow up and get out of here. I feel like I’m in a good place now and happy to be back.
“When it comes to the club, I always still supported the club and it always held a place in my heart. I never ever actually hated the club. It was just some of how I was treated that frustrated me. But I think everything happens for a reason and I had to go through all those changes to find my feet again and find a bit of motivation.”
One of Marshall’s biggest regrets about how he left the club in 2013 was his decision to announce his signing with the Auckland Blues wearing their jersey while still having another month to play with the Tigers.
“I’d probably do a lot of things different,” he said.
“The whole kerfuffle of wearing the Auckland Blues jersey when I left was probably the biggest regret the way that played out. Looking back, I can see why people were so angry about it. I don’t regret going to union, though. It gave me a chance to get away from here. You can get comfortable somewhere and I think that happened the back end of my time here.
“But this is where I’m from. I walk in here and feel like I belong here. I don’t walk here and feel like I’m new. The other day they played a video of the club’s history, and I was in that video.
"This is home.”