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Roar emotion: Why the Knights should fear maestro Benji Marshall

FROM one champion to the next.
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A week after retiring North Queensland maestro Johnathan Thurston put them to the sword, the Knights find themselves facing another veteran for possibly the last time when Wests Tigers wizard Benji Marshall visits McDonald Jones Stadium tonight.

Marshall, 33, is off contract at season’s end and, along with fellow Tigers legend Robbie Farah, is mulling over when to sound the full-time siren.

Tigers coach Ivan Cleary said yesterday “I’d love them to play next year”, but added: “It’s just that time in their careers where they’ve got to be sure that they want to go around, and we’ve got to be able to make it work as well.”

MAESTRO: Will this be Benji Marshall’s last-ever game in Newcastle?

Newcastle’s Herman Ese’ese and Shaun Kenny-Dowall have both admired Marshall’s work from close quarters and know what to expect from their former teammate.

“Every kid dreamed of being Benji …and I was fortunate enough to play alongside him at the Broncos,” Ese’ese said.

“I know what he brings to the team, the energy he brings. I’m definitely expecting that this week and it will be good to play against him one more time in Newcastle.”

Kenny-Dowall, appearing in his 250thNRL game, shared rooms with Marshall while on Test tours with New Zealand, and the pair teamed up to help the Kiwis beat Australia in the 2010 Four Nations final.

“He’s a great player,” Kenny-Dowall said.

“It’s always an honour to represent your country and I was fortunate enough to wear the black-and-white jersey with Benji and had some great success.

“I think we were room-mates a couple of times.

“It’s a credit to him. He’s back at his spiritual home with the Tigers and playing some great footy. Friday night will be great to come up against him one more time.”

SKD had no doubt Marshall could go around again next year if he chose to.

“I think he’s shown this year that he’s still got it and is playing some great footy,” he said. “He’s really taken the Tigers to another level this year. He’s doing a great job.”

Tonight’s match shapes asone of the most emotional of Marshall’s career after the death of his grandfather.

Marshall was granted personal leave this week to return to New Zealand for the funeral but hehas been declared a certain starter againstNewcastle.

“He missed the one session, which is not unusual for Benji anyway,”Clearysaid on Thursday.

“He was back for our main session yesterday.

“I think he’s all right. It was good for him to get the opportunity to go back and say his farewell.

“We had a good chat yesterday and he seemed his bright self.”

Marshall considered his grandfather his No.1fan.

The 2010 Golden Boot winner launched his NRL career against Newcastle in 2003, coming off the bench as an 18-year-old in a 52-12 thrashing of the Knights.

He has since played a further 16 games against Newcastle with the Tigers, St George Illawarra and Brisbane, for 11 wins and six losses.

Tonightwill be his 10thNRL game in Newcastle. His record thus far is six wins and three losses.

He also captained the Kiwis to a 36-24 World Cup win in Newcastle in 2008.

Tonight’s match is crucial to both teams’ slim hopes of staying alive in the finals race.

If the Tigers win, they move to within two points of the eighth-placed Warriors, who face a daunting clash with the Dragons in Wollongong.

With five rounds remaining, the Knights are three wins adrift of the Warriors and need a miracle.

They suffered a body blow on Thursday when five-eighth Connor Watson was ruled out for the second consecutive game with a groin injury. He will be replaced by JackCogger.

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