By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
Dragons halfback and Auckland Nines captain Benji Marshall says he wishes an 18-year-old version of himself was around to explode at this year's Auckland Nines, but has still backed himself and the club's young guns to have a good tournament.
"I wish I was 18 again, I wish the 18 year-old me was playing this weekend! But in saying that I feel like I've got a lot to offer," Marshall laughed when asked about whether the free-flowing tournament would allow him to reach deep within his famed bag of tricks.
"But we've got a lot of [talented youngsters]. We've got a young guy Euan Aitken who was part of the Junior Kangaroos last year, I think Josh Dugan's looking the best he's ever looked. He'll excite the crowd a bit.
"We've got a few young guys not a lot of people know about. We've got a Fijian guy, Eto Nabuli, who I think has got a lot of raw talent and probably learned a lot over the last pre-season, I think he'll surprise a few people.
"He's one of the characters of the team and I think when people get to know his personality he'll be one of the well-liked figures with the crowd."
Nabuli laughed off the praise of his skipper when told of Marshall's comments but still backed himself to succeed in his second outing at the Nines.
"I think it helps because Benji's here and we have a lot of talent," Nabuli told NRL.com.
"This is my second time [at the Nines]. I was in Panthers last year, I did well and then I got injured."
A strong performance over the weekend may help Nabuli stake a claim for Brett Morris's vacant wing spot, where he is battling the likes of Charly Runciman, Euan Aitken and Peter Mata'utia for a start in first grade.
"It's all about how I perform on the field. There's a spot there. Everybody's been going for that spot, it's all about whoever performs well. I've been there last year and I know I can do well."
On the tournament as a whole, New Zealand native Marshall said the Auckland region had been "crying out" for a spectacle like this.
"You see all the fans that are going to turn up, without the fans there's no game. Because they love the spectacle we've got to try and give a bit back and put on a show for them.
"In Auckland they've been crying out for a rugby league spectacle like this for a long time. Hopefully this becomes every year because I know how much the people love it."