Date: June 16 2012
BENJI Marshall pauses like he never does on the football field. Asked this week if there was some chance he might never play in the No.6 jersey again, he stops and thinks.
''Probably,'' he said. ''But it doesn't bother me. I used to be so caught up in what number I was wearing, because I've always worn six. But what for?''
Well, for starters, six is Marshall's favourite number. He won a competition wearing the jumper and has owned it predominantly ever since. Tigers coach Tim Sheens has tried and failed before to turn one of the game's best five-eighths into a halfback. But yet, in recent weeks, after trying again, Sheens appears to have succeeded.
Wearing a jumper in which he has felt so uncomfortable in the past he could have been wearing itchy wool, Marshall now looks at home as a halfback; controlling matches and, almost as remarkably, controlling the urge to attempt a trick-shot pass between his legs and off the referee in the process.
Now, when Marshall talks of a process that is ''one step at a time'', he is not talking about that exaggerated hop and shimmy that he has been known for. It is the small steps he is taking to make his game at halfback a more controlled one.
''I'm probably more dangerous running wider, but I feel like my biggest asset at the moment for our team is control and direction,'' Marshall said.
''At the moment, that's been winning us games; field position, completions. That's what wins games, not being able to step people once or twice a game out wide.''
In his recent outings as a No.7, Marshall has been averaging about 70 touches each game. As a five-eighth, he was only touching the ball 40 or 50 times a match.
''I applied the thinking that, if I am playing No.7, I'd get closer to the ball, and get closer to Robbie [Farah],'' Marshall said.
''The more touches you get, the more times you get your hands on the ball, the easier it is to get yourself into a game, and the more control you have over a game. [Before the move] I was trying to control the game from second receiver. It's pretty hard to send messages through four people to get to the ruck to say what's going on.
''Now that I'm actually at the ruck, I just feel like it's more controlled. I'm doing a lot of extra work on my kicking game, and more than anything, just trying to make sure I get the team more organised and in good positions to build pressure.''
He feels more comfortable now than he ever has before. More is less for Marshall; he doesn't try to do too much with the ball; knowing it won't be long before he has it in his hands again.
''It probably comes with a bit of growing up at the same time - not growing up, but maturing football-wise,'' he said.
''The less touches you have, the more you try and make of those few touches you have. When you have a lot more, you can pick your times a bit better, to try and make the most of it.
''Instead of trying to force the issue with a couple of touches, you get a lot more opportunities to, more than anything, build pressure.''
Marshall now can admit that he acted with a little immaturity on the occasions when he resisted the urges of Sheens to embrace the jumper.
''He sat me down and asked me [recently], because I used to get a little bit filthy about having to change numbers, when I probably shouldn't have,'' Marshall said.
''Looking back, that's probably a bit immature to say to the coach: 'Nah, I don't want to play No.7'. If he wants me to play there, I should be just happy to be playing. I've changed my thinking in that way. There was no way he could have let Chris Lawrence wear No.7. Why not? I feel like I'm doing the same role, I'm just going to the ball more.''
Having played in the No.6 jersey for so long, Marshall still suffers from a slight identity crisis. The old five-eighth in him is clinging onto the past while the future halfback is embracing the change.
Asked if he regarded himself as a halfback now, he said: ''I don't know … I don't know what I am. I think I'm a halfback.
''I still feel like I've got a lot to learn in the game, as funny as it sounds. I'm learning every day at training. I feel like I'm evolving as a player, which is the most important thing for me. I know I can always get better. The question is: how do you do it? It's train harder to be better.''
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