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South Sydney veteran Benji Marshall is shaping up to be one of the stories of the 2021 NRL season as he looks to end his 16-year career with a second premiership.
Marshall had been pondering retirement before he was offered a lifeline from Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett ahead of the season.
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A fairytale final season could end with the ultimate success, but after South Sydney's preliminary final win over Manly, premiership glory was far from the top of his mind.
After the siren, an emotional Marshall donned a cap with a design on it raising awareness of bowel cancer, explaining that a family friend had recently lost their daughter to the disease.
Marshall said there were 'mixed emotions' after the final siren, following what had been a tough week off the field.
“Mixed emotions today, one of my wife’s friends lost their daughter Jess to bowel cancer yesterday, just a bit of a tribute to pass on my condolences,” Marshall said.
“She made these hats to support bowel cancer, and the black arm band as well. Just wanted to pass on the best to the family.”
The former Wests Tigers superstar was praised for the gesture, which came after a 29-minute cameo off the bench in South Sydney's 36-16 drubbing of the Sea Eagles.
On October 3, Benji Marshall will take the field in red and green in what looks to be his last ever game in the NRL.
He leaves behind a legacy, and what better way to write the final chapter.
Go get 'em, Benji. pic.twitter.com/OnmMqfH0xP
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) September 24, 2021
Rabbitohs coach Bennett spoke after the game of the circumstances surrounding Marshall's arrival at Redfern, as well as the likelihood of the 36-year-old retiring after the season decider.
"He rang me up and said 'I'd love to come to South Sydney'," the coach recalled.
"I asked 'what do you want to come to South Sydney for?'
"He said, 'I think you can win the grand final'."
"And he's been wonderful ... he doesn't want to make a fuss about it, but you can't retire in a better moment than in a grand final.
"It doesn't get any better than that."
Benji Marshall unsure if NRL grand final will mark career end
Marshall will be 37 when the next NRL preseason rolls around.
"I don't know if it's the end yet - but if he's retired me, it might be," the player joked about Bennett's post-game remarks.
This chance, he accepts, almost never came, with Bennett "saving his career two times" thanks to one-year deals at Brisbane in 2017 and again at Souths in 2021.
"I was going to retire mate, seriously," Marshall said of his mindset late last year.
"My wife, she said, 'just give Wayne a try'. So I called him and he said, 'I've got one spot left, so come and see what happens'.
"You've got to back yourself, give yourself every opportunity."
The partnership has worked for both coach and player, the former Tigers five-eighth having played "every position bar wing" in a tweaked bench utility role that he believes has also caught on at other clubs.
"I've never played lock in my life, or hooker until this year," said Marshall.
"And he gave me the confidence to go and do that, and be me, and not try to be a big forward in the middle."
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