Throughout the history of famous football moments being mimicked in back yards all over Australasia, few will have been as widely admired and practised as Benji Marshall’s genius flick pass which created the defining try of the 2005 NRL Grand Final for the Wests Tigers against North Queensland Cowboys.
This match was in the balance at six-all when the Cowboys narrowly avoided a Pat Richards try in the corner, with video evidence ruling he had lost the ball in the tackle despite a wonderful effort to stay in-field and avoid the corner post. North Queensland recovered well and worked the ball into good field position and Johnathan Thurston kicked deep and well into the 10m pocket.
The ball was fielded near his own line by Tigers fullback Brett Hodgson, who partly drew the cover and set Benji Marshall free on the inside. Marshall, then at the peak of his considerable powers, took off and the red light immediately went up for North Queensland.
A burst of rapid acceleration propelled the Kiwi five-eighth through the defence, shredding first Thurston and then Matt Sing in the process, the former with sheer speed and the latter with surprising strength (Marshall kicked out of defensive specialist Sing’s tackle, while somehow barely losing pace).
His inbuilt GPS at maximum capacity, Marshall showed all the guile and nous he was renowned for, bolting up the left side of the field, while employing his trademark skip to full effect; rounding the further Cowboys cover of David Faiumu with another scorching rush.
Marshall now had coming at him one of the best indigenous fullbacks of all time, the Cowboys brilliant Matty Bowen.
Marshall instinctively drew Bowen to him in defence, pulling him almost to the touchline approximately 35 metres from the Cowboys goal line. Having committed Bowen in this manner, Marshall produced a play for the ages with an extraordinarily audacious, right-handed, blind flick pass to his trailing winger in Richards.
Richards, having the sheer presence of mind to even catch such a remarkable pass, charged towards the line with the Cowboys’ Rod Jensen haring across in pursuit.
Richards executed a near-perfect fend on Jensen’s leading chin and the North Queensland reserve was sent crashing to the ground; the Irish representative plunging over in sheer delight at scoring the near 100 metre effort.
This sabre-like thrust to the North Queensland underbelly, coming as it did in the twilight of the first half of the 2005 Grand Final, was to prove irresistible – Wests Tigers, riding high on the emotion of Marshall’s magic, would go on to win the match 30-16.
Moreover, this Grand Final was full vindication for Tim Sheens’ elegant coaching style which encouraged his players to be creative and to play what was in front of them, a modern throwback to the contract football which had proved so successful for many of the best teams of the Twentieth Century.