He’s the rock star of the Kiwis rugby league team, the man with the diamond ear studs, dazzling sidestep and big pay packet.
But Benji Marshall’s teammates haven’t let him forget it’s just his fifth test appearance against the Kangaroos in their World Cup opener here on Sunday. He’s earned a nickname befitting, well, you be the judge.
“(Captain) Nathan Cayless is always giving it to me about it being my first tour. I’ve missed that many games I think they’re calling me The Tampon — in for one, out for four,” he told reporters at the team’s Sydney hotel on Wednesday.
It seems Marshall, 23, is willing to cop a dodgy nickname because, at last, he’s in the Kiwis jersey post-NRL season. Since he burst onto the scene with the Wests Tigers as a teenager five years ago, this is his first end-of-year campaign.
Five bouts of shoulder surgery and other niggling injuries have seen to that, after his memorable role in the Wests Tigers’ 2005 grand final win.
He declared himself as close to peak as possible today as the cameras crowded around the Whakatane whiz in his one and only interview for the week. Team minders will put up the shutters around their star man until Sunday night as his long-awaited return nears.
“I’m feeling pretty good, probably the best I’ve felt in a while,” he said.
“I’ve had a good mental preparation. I’m pretty confident in myself and ready to play.
“I haven’t felt this way for a while. It’s been good being on the field for a few games in a row then representing New Zealand at the end of the year for a change.
“To be able to play in a World Cup is a big deal for me. To be able to have my first tour as a World Cup is pretty exciting, so I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.”
Aside from his impressive performance in the 56-8 win over Tonga on Saturday, his previous test was in April last year. Fresh from another shoulder surgery, a jittery Marshall hardly set the world on fire as the Kangaroos cantered home 30-6.
“Confidence is a big thing. Last time I played in the Anzac test I was just coming back from injury and it’s pretty hard to get timing and confidence up.”
This time around, he had a strong finish to the season with the Tigers, six weeks of hard work on his fitness and defence in Sydney and two significant matches in the past fortnight.
The first was alongside his idol Stacey Jones for the All Golds against New Zealand Maori and the second against Tonga where he ran the show alongside his halves partner Thomas Leuluai and turned on the trademark razzle-dazzle in scoring two of the Kiwis’ 10 tries.
“He’s been good, Stacey. He’s been in camp with us through the last couple of weeks and he’s definitely had an influence on me, excitement-wise, being able to be around a bloke like him.
“He puts in his five cents every now and then, it’s just good to have him around.”
So, does Marshall feel the weight of New Zealand league on his shoulders as they chase World Cup glory against hot favourites Australia?
“I don’t feel pressured at all. I’ve got a lot of good players around me, we’ve got good coaching staff and I feel like I’ve prepared well. Really, the rest is just on the field.”