The cruelty of sport
- By Ray Chesterton
Repeated injuries, mostly to the shoulders, have curtailed Marshall’s vigorous attempts at permanent rehabilitation.
He is now sidelined again with injury but hopes to be back before the end of the season.
Marshall’s career since making his first-grade debut late in 2003 has followed a vicious path of elation and disappointment.
It has been a case of yet another shoulder injury, yet another shoulder operation, yet another period on the sideline.
Since Marshall made first grade the Tigers have played 90 matches. He has played 56 of those games – or 62 per cent.
At his captivating best, as he was in the Tigers’ 2005 grand final triumph with that magical inside flick pass to winger Pat Richards, Marshall has been both a superbly creative individual and an exceptional team player.
But he has now suffered five shoulder injuries and undergone two reconstructions.
The Bulldogs’ Sonny Bill Williams is another nascent champion whose passionate involvement has caused injuries that have severely reduced his appearances.
In four seasons Williams has played just 40 of the 86 games that were available.
Optimism is high in both the Tigers’ and Bulldogs’ camps that their two stars are now over their problems and, when Marshall returns, both of them will enjoy more stability in their careers.
It would be a tragedy if that did not occur.
Watching players struck down before their startling potential has a chance to fully blossom is one of sport’s saddest legacies.
Rugby league has seen at least two premature departures of gifted players who left in their wake the frustrating conundrum of what they might have achieved.
Steve Hewson was a rare talent as a halfback in the 1970s.
He played for Queanbeyan, where he forged an enticing reputation.
Hewson jumped from Country Firsts into the NSW teams for the first two matches against Queensland, beating redoubtable Tommy Raudonikis for the job.
Chronic knee injuries quickly curtained Hewson’s career before he even had a chance to mature, but those who say him play say he was a legend in the making.
Balmain’s Geoff Starling experienced the greatest exhilaration and despair the game offers. He appeared so quickly in big time rugby league it seemed he had been conjured by a magician.
In 1970 Starling was playing C-grade with Codocks in the local Balmain junior league.
Starling made the 1972 World Cup side and then starred with the 1973 Kangaroos team.
But by 1974 Staring’s career was over, his descent as swift as his rise.
He contracted a debilitating disease that absorbed his energy, yet defied diagnosis. He lost 19kg in four weeks and was forced to retire.
Years later his ailment was revealed as Addison’s Disease – the body’s failure to make cortisone.
As poet John Whittier once said:
“For all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: What might have been.”
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