Kiwis v Mate Maa Tonga
Kiwis v Mate Maa Tonga

Skipper Benji to break Kiwi captaincy record

Benji Marshall admits there was some hesitation to accepting the New Zealand rugby league Test captaincy for what will be a record 20th time on Friday.

Marshall was on Monday named to skipper the Kiwis against the Kangaroos in Wollongong as part of the Oceania Cup tournament.

He admitted being shocked when informed of the decision by coach Michael Maguire over coffee on Monday morning.

The 34-year-old half only ended a seven-year absence from the international scene when he played in their mid-year Test win over Tonga in Auckland.

"I was maybe expecting to talk about who was going to be the captain. And then he said, 'I want you to be captain'," Marshall said.

"I was a little bit taken aback, you know. But the opportunity to represent New Zealand is something I'm really passionate about.

"And to be able to lead this group, I thought about it a lot in the last two hours, it's just one of the proudest moments of my career."

 

Marshall returned to impressive form in 2019. Picture: Mark Metcalfe
Marshall returned to impressive form in 2019. Picture: Mark Metcalfe

 

The clash against the Kangaroos will be Marshall's 29th in the Kiwis jumper. And he will have been captain for all but nine of them, overtaking legendary halfback Gary Freeman for most Tests as New Zealand skipper.

"I obviously got the job as captain a long time ago when I was really young and really under-prepared and under-qualified," Marshall said.

"There was a little bit (of hesitation), I'll be honest.

"Obviously we've got some great leaders here - Roger (Tuivasa-Sheck), Shaun (Johnson), Jared (Waerea-Hargreaves), a few guys.

"I was just making sure that that was going to be the best for the team.

 

Marshall credited Michael Maguire for his strong form. Picture: Matt King
Marshall credited Michael Maguire for his strong form. Picture: Matt King

 

"As soon as he (Maguire) said to me that's what he wanted, I agreed with it."

Maguire said the decision was made with the support of the senior players.

"We had the discussion around that and they were all really keen for Benji to be the one that comes in as captain," he said.

"Everyone understands and knows what Benji's been able to do at this level."

The appointment continues a remarkable return to the heights of the game for the Wests Tigers icon, who was seemingly on the cusp of retiring two years ago.

Marshall credited former Tigers coach Ivan Cleary for bringing him back to the club, as well as Wayne Bennett for giving him a chance in Brisbane. But it was Maguire, the current Tigers coach, who got Marshall physically fit.

"Madge come along and pushed me to another level in pre-season that I haven't been for a long time," Marshall said.

"Just that hard training base helped me throughout the season feel really good.

"On top of that, he's taught me a lot about leadership and how much influence I can have on the group.

"Those things are a big part of the reason why I'm here."

Adam Blair and Isaiah Papali'i have been added to New Zealand's squad for their three end-of-season Tests, which include two against Great Britain. Newcastle rookie Starford To'a is also in camp as a development player.

 

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News Corp Australia


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