Benji Marshall’s cheeky swagger is back with coach David Kidwell confident his playmaker can lead the decimated Maoris All Stars to victory over the Indigenous All Stars at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
Just three weeks ago Marshall’s career appeared headed towards retirement but a one-year deal to join Wayne Bennett at South Sydney has not only kept the 35-year-old in the game but allowed him to gain selection in the Maori All Stars for the first time in his decorated career.
With seven Melbourne Storm players - six of them in the Maori squad - forced out of the All Stars clash due to border restrictions, Marshall’s experience and leadership has never been more valuable as he steps into the shoes of premiership-winning halfback Jahrome Hughes to lead a Maori side determined to overcome the loss of key players.
"He is still bloody cheeky so yeah I have [been impressed with Marshall in camp]," Kidwell said.
"I think that surprised a few of the young guys, but that’s just Benji.
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"He looks pretty sharp out there. You know he is really confident and we need him to be. He is in an important position there in the halves but we need to make sure everyone does their job."
Maori co-captain Joseph Tapine said he was surprised by how jovial Marshall had been in camp but his playful nature would quickly subside whenever serious football talk was taking place and his knowledge of the game was highly valuable among the younger players.
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"He is cheeky as and it’s hard to take him seriously sometimes but when he gives you some knowledge you really take it in because he has been around for a long time and I highly respect his words," Tapine said.
While wet weather has blanketed Townsville for most of the week and rain is predicted for game day, Kidwell said the conditions would not alter how the Maori intend to attack the game and promised to put a show on for the fans as rugby league returns for the first time in 2021.
"We are here to entertain and I think with both cultures that is the style we want to play," Kidwell said.
"I don’t think it will matter really what the conditions are like as long as there is a good crowd that’s going to come out and watch two passionate cultures that love to play footy."