England must find a way of passing Marshall law

New Zealand's captain tells Dave Hadfield he will guide them into Four Nations final

From a childhood as something of a waif and stray to the best player in the world, Benji Marshall's journey has been a remarkable one.

Marshall, who will captain New Zealand against England tonight in the match that will decide which side progresses to the final of the Four Nations, could hardly have had a more challenging start to life in the town of Whakatane in what, for him, was the badly-misnamed Bay of Plenty.

Born when his mother was only 15 and still at school, he never knew his biological father and was largely brought up by a number of uncles and other male relatives.

"I had 10 or 11 dads, which was not a bad thing," he has said of his unorthodox upbringing, which also saw him move from house to house like a nomad.

Always the skinny kid of the family, he was toughened up by playing rugby league with and against his fully-grown uncles, who made no allowances for him. In his mid-teens, he won a scholarship to Keeba Park Secondary School on Australia's Gold Coast, a famous rugby league nursery which also groomed the youngster destined to be England's latest half-back, Rangi Chase.

Chase was regarded as a second Marshall and they shared a house for a time. "He's one of my best mates, but not this week," Marshall says. "This week we're enemies."

He does not blame his protégé, however, for casting in his lot with England. "You can't deny any player that choice when he's made a life for himself over here," he says.

Despite playing for the Australian Schoolboys and for Australia at touch rugby, Marshall made the early decision that he was and would remain a Kiwi. It is not one that he has had much cause to regret. After struggling to string together games through injuries to his relatively slight frame in his early days as a Test player, he has become a fixture in the side, leading them to the World Cup in 2008 and the Four Nations last year, when he was also named as the game's International Player of the Year.

This will be the 17th time he has captained the Kiwis, closing in on Gary Freeman's record of 19. "That's something you think about at the end of your career," he says. "Right now, all my focus is on this weekend. We want to win the Four Nations again and to do that we have to beat England first."

At club level, he has won a Grand Final with Wests Tigers, where he also plays alongside two members of the England pack. The qualities of Gareth Ellis are well known, but Marshall says England also have a winner in the Australian-born Chris Heighington. "He's one of the most genuine guys I've ever come across. He can get along with anyone and he's one of my favourite players to play with," he says.

It is a mark of Marshall's excellence that even those who know him best can claim little insight into how to stop him. "It's difficult to predict him, because he's pretty much off the cuff," Heighington says. "Even at training he's got his bag of tricks." Marshall was the only Kiwi voted the best in the world in his position last week.

There are two sorts of stand-offs – the individualist playing on flair and instinct and the organiser setting up play for those around him. Benji Marshall is both kinds. No wonder that the team-talk for any side facing him always includes the words "Stop Benji". Easier said than done.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor