National | Benji Marshall

'Young Māori boy from Whakatāne' recognised for services to rugby league

He's one of Aotearoa's greatest rugby league stars but he remains humble.

Benji Marshall, (Ngāi Tūhoe) was today made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit by Governer-General, Dame Cindy Kiro at Government House in Auckland. The medal is a recognition of his service to rugby league over the course of his 17-year career in the NRL.

"I was a little bit nervous, to be honest, I don't usually get nervous playing rugby league but this is the most nervous I've been for a while," he says.

"To do that for a living and have an impact on the community means a lot to me, but then I look at what some of the other people here, doctors, contributing to education, society - some of those things are more important than what I did so I feel like I was in good company."

The Celebrity Apprentice Australia winner says for any young Māori kid, as he once was growing up in smaller communities, hard work and determination can get success anywhere in the world.

One of the most successful Māori sportsmen is officially honoured. 

'Dream big'

"If you dream big enough you will be amazed at what you can achieve. I was just a young fella from Whakatāne who had no idea what was going to happen to him, then I got an opportunity in Australia and went for it, and worked hard.

"From working hard and dreaming big all those things came true and I'm here today receiving this honour, which for a young Māori boy from Whakatāne is a very proud moment for my whānau."

His service to the sport is far from finished - next year he joins the coaching ranks at his beloved Wests Tigers NRL club. He is encouraging Māori and Pasifika people to also get involved in all aspects of league.

"I'd love to see more Māori and Pacific Islanders in leadership roles, whether that's coaching or captaining their teams.

"The NRL next year is going to be over 50% Pacific Islanders and Māori in the competition. If we can start progressing those participation levels into leadership roles hopefully I can have that impact as well."

Even on a special day, the acknowledgments for his work have been made, and now he's back in Sydney doing the mahi he was recognised for today.