WESTS TIGERS ace Benji Marshall has criticised the fishbowl-like existence of rugby league players and says he will be glad to turn his back on one of the hardest years of his life.
Marshall spent much of the 2011 NRL season battling to keep his focus on football as he fought assault allegations in court.
The 26-year-old was cleared of the charges and went on to play an integral role in getting the Tigers to the semi-finals. But the 5½ months he spent under a cloud of doubt and speculation off the field - from early March to late August - took their toll, he said yesterday.
''You have to pretend that nothing was going on and concentrate on playing,'' Marshall said. ''It was one of the hardest years that I've had away from playing - to concentrate on playing well.''
A 10-year veteran of the Tigers who considers himself adept at handling the media and public attention on his life, Marshall said the intense scrutiny under which football players operated was unfair.
''It's all right if you're a rock star to go out and snort cocaine and do whatever you want but for us we've got to be angels. You can't scratch yourself,'' he said while promoting his autobiography Benji Marshall: My Game, My Story.
Marshall was impressive during his court appearances in late August, remaining composed under intense police cross-examination. But even that took extraordinary effort, he said. ''As composed as I may have looked, on the inside I was shitting myself. It's out of my comfort zone, I'd never been to a court room, I didn't know what to expect.
''I had only seen what I'd seen on TV about court. It's a pretty daunting thing even for myself, but I had to be composed not only for myself but for my family too, you know. The day it was over I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder.''
The episode had not made him resentful of the media or general public but he admitted to being hurt by the speculation surrounding the case.
''The whole process was daunting,'' he said. ''I tried to pretend it wasn't to you guys [the media] but all the people who know me closely knew it was hurting me.''
Marshall said he felt sorry for younger rugby league players who were just launching their careers.
''We're just people, we just want to play rugby league,'' he said. ''The things that come with it, obviously we've got to adapt to it, maybe we have to change. We don't want to change but a lot of the kids who are now coming through under-20s now, most people their age are out in [Kings] Cross partying and it gets to the stage where you can't do that.''
The five-eighth returned last week from the United Kingdom where New Zealand failed to reach the Four Nations final.
Even more painful was the Tigers two-point loss to the Warriors in the semi-finals. ''That probably was the hardest game to get over for me,'' he said. ''Because we had such a great squad and I thought we really had a chance of doing something special, to be leading that game by [eight points] and to let it slip in the last two minutes was pretty devastating and pretty hard to take.''