Benji Marshall's return to Wests Tigers colours in 2018 had basically everything you want from the final chapter of a fairytale.
First, there was the emotion of seeing a Life Member and favourite son back in the colours he had become synonymous with for over a decade. Then there was the brilliance on field to go with it — game-changing moments that saw Wests Tigers finish with the year with a 12-12 record for the first time since 2011.
And like every good ending, there was the realisation that this wasn't the final chapter, with Marshall extending his time with the club for one final season that will likely take him past the 300-game milestone.
While all knew how important Marshall's return would be off the field for both fans and players alike, few could have predicted just how great of an impact he would have on it in 2018. With Josh Reynolds picking up a hamstring injury on the eve of Round 1, the veteran playmaker was thrust in to the halves alongside Luke Brooks and didn't look back — starring as his side started the year with a blistering 5-1 record.
Reynolds' injury-filled year meant Marshall had more of a contribution on field than all perhaps thought he would at the start of the year, with the 33-year-old nursing a calf injury himself for most of the season.
That contribution was certainly noticed as halves partner Luke Brooks delivered his finest season since picking up the Dally M Rookie of the Year in 2014, no coincidence given Marshall's impact on the side.
The Kiwi international finished the year with more tries, points, kick metres, forced dropouts, try assists and run metres than he had in any of the last three seasons, while also chalking up 338 tackles — the most the playmaker has made in any season of his illustrious career to date.
Perhaps the only thing missing from the fairytale was a return to finals football, with the Wests Tigers great no doubt determined to ensure he bows out in style next year with one last hurrah in the top eight.
WHAT STOOD OUT IN 2018
No doubt the biggest thing that stood out most for Marshall throughout the year was his control. His experience of managing key moments late in matches (without necessarily having a lot of points to work with on the scoreboard) was pivotal in Wests Tigers winning a number of matches, and also helping Luke Brooks deliver a fantastic season himself. Marshall starred in the season-opening win over the Roosters, before slotting the winning field goal in a remarkable upset win over Melbourne in Auckland. Close wins throughout the year were also a direct result of Marshall's handiwork his ability to stand up when needed.
WHAT'S TO COME IN 2019
Make no mistake about it — Benji Marshall's decision to play on in 2019 wasn't just for a feel-good story off the field. Sure, it's a brilliant storyline, but the 33-year-old will be determined to contribute as much on field in 2019 as he did in 2018. How that works with Josh Reynolds back from injury still remains to be seen, but the competition for spots in the halves can only be a good thing for all involved. Having Marshall present certainly helped bring out the best of Brooks this year, so you'd expect to see the same again in 2019 with the experienced playmaker assisting both he, Reynolds and Tyson Gamble. Marshall is also just 11 games away from reaching the 300-game milestone — 233 of which have been in Wests Tigers colours.
MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Wests Tigers co-captain (on-field captain five times)
Phillips Sports Dad of the Year finalist