“From the day I left I always wanted to come back.”
With those words Benji Marshall took it into his own hands to ensure he finished his illustrious career at where it all began with the Wests Tigers.
Call it old school or a classic case of having unfinished business at a club which continues to call Marshall its prodigal son.
The timing was right. After four years playing in rival colours, the fan favourite is finally home.
“I didn’t think there would be a realistic chance to get the opportunity to come back,” Marshall told weststigers.com.au.
“I suppose if you want something you’ve got to go and make it yourself. I just thought you know what, I’ll give Ivan [Cleary] a call and tell him what I could offer the club and to the team on the field.”
Marshall’s conversations with Cleary in the lead-up to his return have been well publicised.
The random coffee shop visits and phone calls to go with secret meetings and wearing different apparel to hide his identity in public.
The question for Cleary remained – was he convinced Marshall could deliver on what he was offering?
“He was in line with all the things I was thinking and it wasn’t realistic until we spoke about it,” Marshall said of Cleary.
“During that meeting we were obviously trying to get a feel for each other and judging from what I could tell he realised how hungry I was for success and to come back.
“After that meeting everything went well and I said sweet, we’ll sign it. We didn’t talk about money. We just both put it out on the table and after that conversation a week later I signed the deal.”
The Wests Tigers have had more than 10 recruits who have come on board under Cleary in the space of 11 months.
Of the 30-man squad, Marshall has only played alongside Chris Lawrence, David Nofoaluma, Sauaso Sue and Luke Brooks.
Only the Warriors fanbase has endured the same five years waiting for the next finals appearance.
“I think the beauty of what we can do as a club is there’s no set culture or way we have to be,” Marshall said.
“What I am starting to see is a team that was shy come together and be very vocal. The awkwardness of being new and meeting people or being young is out of the way now. People are starting to step up.
“We set our own way and control what the next 10 years is going to look like for the club. We have a team that’s going to do that.”
Marshall’s return to Leichhardt Oval, scheduled for round 10 against the North Queensland Cowboys, is set to come with a range of emotions.
In his three-year absence while playing at the Dragons and Broncos, he managed to avoid a game against the Wests Tigers at the venue.
“[I’m] 90 per cent chance of crying,” Marshall admitted about his Leichhardt return.
“The older I’ve got, the more emotional I’ve got. Anything could happen. I’ve found myself crying at the weirdest stuff lately. I know walking back to Leichhardt to do some filming was pretty emotional as well and getting to watch my brother make his debut there last year.
“From the day I left I always wanted to come back. I just never had the opportunity or right people at the club to make that happen.
“The changing of the guard with Ivan coming on board and the direction changing, that was all I needed to work myself back into the club.”