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Rugby league fans have paid tribute to Benji Marshall, who made his rumoured retirement from the sport official on Wednesday afternoon.
Despite a heartbreaking loss in Sunday night's NRL grand final, Marshall elected not to pursue another chance at premiership glory.
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Instead, Marshall felt his final game for the Rabbitohs was the perfect way to bow out.
After 346 games for four different NRL clubs, one premiership, a Golden Boot, and 31 Tests for New Zealand, Marshall said he was proud of what he had accomplished.
Five years after retirement first looked likely, the 36-year-old Marshall opted to beat father time before it caught him.
"I just don't think it gets any better in terms of timing," Marshall said.
"The more I thought about it, if I don't make this decision now I would have played until I was 40.
"I would have hated to go on for one season too long."
Marshall is without doubt the most influential player for youngsters this century.
From the moment he sidestepped three Newcastle players out of dummy-half on debut in 2003, kids have been practising the Benji step.
By age 20 in 2005, Benji-mania was unmatched.
No player has had their career so defined by one play like Marshall's flick for Pat Richards in Wests Tigers' 2005 success.
"I was looking back at some highlights this morning and I've done some good stuff," Marshall said.
"From a flashy young kid doing all this weird stuff to a man who was given this opportunity, I feel really lucky."
If anyone needed proof of Marshall's standing within the NRL world, one only needed to look at the flood of tributes for the Wests Tigers great online.
Rugby league could never repay the debt it owes Benji Marshall.
I always enjoyed league growing up, Benji made me love the sport. https://t.co/3TQz2D05mH
— Chris Garry (@ChrisGarry7) October 6, 2021
When he was on (and healthy) Benji Marshall was the most exciting player of my life following rugby league. It’s not even close.
Would’ve loved to see him go on another year with the Titans but what an incredible career. #nrl #rugbyleague
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) October 6, 2021
— Caden Helmers (@cadenhelmers) October 6, 2021
PURE PASSION! 🇳🇿🖤 Congrats on an epic career, Benji Marshall! An absolute Kiwi League LEGEND! 💪
Following his retirement announcement today, here's one of our favourite throwbacks: Benji's emotional return to the NZ Kiwis in 2019 showcasing just what the game means to him pic.twitter.com/a9D4qsWjzY
— Sky Sport NZ (@skysportnz) October 6, 2021
How great that we got to live in the same world at the same time as #Benji Marshall
— Georgie Tunny (@georgie_tunny) October 6, 2021
My former next door neighbour Benji Marshall has retired! My all-time favourite player. Passer of iconic flick, scorer of sensational tries, a non-stop joy factory who rebounded from injuries to be the pre-eminent entertainer of his generation. He once said hello to me.
— Patrick Avenelllllllllll (@Patrickavenell) October 6, 2021
Marshall credited Keebra Park school coach Greg Lenton for encouraging him to bring touch football into the NRL.
"I had this big jumpy ugly looking sidestep thing that everyone though was weird," Marshall said.
"I used to throw these whacko passes.
"When everyone told him that I was just a touch footballer, he gave me an opportunity and encouraged me to use those skills.
"Without that I might not have been where I am today."
Wayne Bennett pays tribute to retiring NRL great Benji Marshall
After 19 years of watching Marshall dazzle rugby league audiences, Wayne Bennett summed it up best at the star's retirement on Wednesday.
"I've always gravitated towards him," Bennett said.
"When I saw him first play, I would be over football but I'd want to watch him.
"He was so exciting. He just brought that unpredictability."
Marshall made a point of thanking the Tigers on Wednesday, where his career should have ended.
But when told he would not be re-signed last year it was Bennett who again allowed him to go out on his own terms.
"It always dumbfounded me a bit to think that clubs could not see those values," Bennett said.
"When they talk about the great players of the game, he will always be in that category."
It wasn't always easy.
Marshall had five shoulder reconstructions between 2004 and 2008, and was told to retire.
He left the Tigers and NRL for rugby union at the end of 2013 before returning months later at St George Illawarra.
His career looked over when unsigned in 2016 before a last-minute call to Bennett saved him at Brisbane.
"No-one has a perfect career, you're going to always have lots of ups and downs," Marshall said.
"It's how you come out of those negatives and how you ride those positives.
"I'm really proud of how I fought back from all my setbacks."
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