Dapper Benji barely raises a sweat, but stats don't lie
Tigers 26 Cowboys 18
Centrepiece ... Benji Marshall huddles with teammates. Photo: Steve Christo
Benji Marshall could've played in a dinner suit yesterday afternoon and would've remained in good enough condition to head straight into Wests Leagues Club for post-match celebrations last night.
He was only tackled once with the ball in 80 minutes. The only other time he hit the deck was when he was hit in mid-air by James Tamou, and Marshall, the New Zealand skipper, lashed out at the Kiwi defector with a short-armed jab to the jaw of the floored Cowboy.
Tim Moltzen and Beau Ryan celebrate the winning try. Photo: Steve Christo
To suggest Tigers officials need not worry about sending Marshall's jersey to the laundromat this morning might sound like a shot at the Tigers No.7, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Only once, late in the second half, did he take on the line, forced to play the ball.
Yet, he still walked away from Campbelltown Sports Stadium having amassed the type of statistics that would take most playmakers in the NRL a month to achieve.
So here they are: one try, two try assists, two line breaks, seven tackle breaks, three offloads and five from five with the boot to steer his team over the line against the Cowboys.
Unfortunately, it isn't a game Marshall is likely to look back on with great fondness.
Regardless of his match-winning feats, it will be remembered as the afternoon Tamou - a 194-centimetre prop weighing 113 kilograms - ran down the Tigers pivot in a stunning show of pace from the Cowboys' enforcer.
But back to Marshall. Coach Tim Sheens moved him to halfback against the Titans in round nine, with the intention of getting his star playmaker even more involved than he already was.
To achieve the things he did last night having only been tackled once was remarkable, but imagine how devastating he will be later in the season when he regains the confidence to start taking the line on more.
Marshall, like many of the Tigers players over the past three weeks, has been struggling with the flu, and it showed yesterday in the number of times he was on his haunches.
But his move to halfback is having the desired effect, with Sheens crediting Marshall for helping the team grind out the close matches they were losing earlier in the season.
''We have been grinding them out a little bit more and a lot of that has to do with Benji playing at seven,'' Sheens said.
''When he's two-out, he demands the ball, so I suppose we move the ball more to him … at the end of the day, the major ball-players are Robbie [Farah] and Benji and if we're playing Benji tight around at halfback then we stay a bit tighter. That probably hasn't been a bad thing for us, actually.''
After five consecutive losses earlier in the season that left the Tigers languishing at the bottom of the ladder, they've now won five on the trot to climb into seventh position, just two points behind the Broncos, Sharks and Rabbitohs, who are all equal second on 16 points.
They haven't set the world alight in their stretch of victories, but suddenly they are edging closer to the brand of football that saw them tagged as premiership favourites before a ball had even been kicked this year.
They play the struggling Raiders next week, travel to Melbourne to take on the Storm without their Origin stars a week later, then head into their final bye in round 17 with games against the lowly ranked Roosters and Knights.
The Cowboys didn't come away with the two points last night, but there's no doubt they will be there at the business end of the season.
Coach Neil Henry felt his team were unlucky to be on the wrong end of some crucial refereeing decisions, but refused to blame the officials for what is now his team's 13th loss from their past 14 games in Sydney.
''We didn't get the rub of the green a bit,'' Henry said. ''But I'll say, the game was in our own hands. We were the team that didn't make the most of our field position, particularly in the first half. I thought we should've got some more points on the board.''
WESTS TIGERS 26 (T Moltzen 2, B Marshall, L Tuqiri tries; B Marshall 5 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 18 (A Graham, G Hall, A Winterstein tries; J Thurston 3 goals) at Campbelltown Sports Stadium. Referees: Ben Cummins, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 13,059.