In the ultimate master-versus-apprentice showdown, Benji Marshall is set to go head to head with Parramatta excitement machine Dylan Brown in a mouth-watering NRL restart.
Sources close to Wests Tigers concede they too have heard the whispers after Brown revealed the unbeaten, table-topping Eels will resume their quest for a drought-breaking title against their western Sydney rivals this month.
“Apparently we might be playing the Tigers, which I’m pretty happy with. I get to go against ‘Uncle Benji’ so that would be pretty special,” Brown said.
Virtually half Marshall’s age, 19-year-old Brown said coming up against his New Zealand compatriot and idol following almost three months of coronavirus shutdown would be a dream.
“It’s pretty cool to play alongside him. I’ve been around him, his same environment, in the Kiwi camp and stuff, but to actually play against him is pretty special,” Brown said.”
Despite being two of the NRL’s most electrifying talents and Brown’s “Uncle Benji” call, he and the Tigers’ 2005 grand final hero, ex-Kiwi captain and one-time world player of the year aren’t actually related.
“If I’m calling you ‘Uncle’, it just means I’ve got a bit of respect for you,” said Brown, who also revealed a high school teacher in New Zealand used to read Marshall’s autobiography to them to inspire the country’s next generation.
“He likes it. He calls me ‘Neph’ so it’s sort of a back and forth thing. It’s just a Kiwi thing. All Kiwis get along.”
Brown bagged a try-scoring double in Parramatta’s record-setting 58-0 finals rout of Brisbane last year – but it was an otherwise largely injury-disrupted and disappointing debut season.
“So once we get back and start playing, I’m definitely going to try and show what I can do,” the teenager said, having fully recovered from a back injury.
And Brown’s teammates are tipping the gun playmaker to excel when the competition resumes on May 28.
“He came back setting the roof on fire. He’s winning all the fitness (sessions) and he’s strong in the gym and his work ethic has been outstanding for a young kid,” said Eels lock Nathan Brown.
“Mitch (Moses) can be that dominant half. Dylan just comes in and shows his talent off and they really work well together. It’s a great combination.”
Brown believes starting the season atop the ladder with two wins from as many games will be a “massive advantage” over their rivals and rejects the notion of the 2020 champions being asterisk premiers because of the shortened competition.
“Winning a comp, you’re still winning a comp,” he said.
“Regardless of the virus, I’d still love to win a comp this year. That’s the plan, that’s the goal.”