Marshall: I was close to quitting rugby league
When Liam Marshall signed a new four-year contract with Wigan last week, it wasn't difficult for him to imagine how different life may have been.
Little more than two years ago, the winger was on the brink of quitting the sport.
Too old to play in the Under-19s, he was told he would not be offered a first-team deal, and had resigned himself to earning a living as an accountant.
Only a heart-to-heart with Matty Peet, Wigan’s head of youth, persuaded him to continue in rugby league.
“I never thought it would happen for me,” reflects the winger.
“Rugby was on the backburner when I finished with the 19s. I was focusing on getting a job, I was training to be an accountant and thinking that’s what I’d be doing for the rest of my life.
“I came really close to quitting rugby altogether. I had some tough chats with Matty and I nearly said, ‘That’s me, I’ll not play again.’
“It was a difficult time for me. Matty sorted out the Swinton move and a reserve contract, and it was a last chance for me.”
And so Marshall retained a link with Wigan through the reserves, but spent most of 2016 at Swinton, where he scored 20 tries in 22 Championship games.
His form didn’t go unnoticed, and at the end of the year, Shaun Wane offered him a place in his senior squad.
“I knuckled down and when I got the chance to come into the first-team last year, I just thought I’d give it a good crack,” recalled the former Shevington Sharks and Wigan St Pat’s junior.
Marshall has quickly become a fans’ favourite.
What he lacks in size and strength, he compensates for with blistering accekeration, predatory instincts and his wide-eyed enthusiasm.
When injuries bit into Wane’s squad, Marshall soon got his chance and made sure he made the most of it.
He finished last season with 23 tries from 24 appearances.
“I got the lifeline and now to get a four-year contract, it’s been a pretty surreal 12 months for me,” he said.
“But I’ve just got to keep my feet on the ground and keep trying to improve.”
Wigan are one of only two Super League teams operating reserve teams – Wakefield are the other – with others relying on dual-registration and loan agreements for their fringe players too old for the U19s.
Marshall believes many talented players have slipped through the cracks due to the inadequate pathway in the sport.
“I definitely think so. Not everyone will be developed and have the skills at 19, and it’s a difficult one,” he said.
“There will be lads all over the country who might have been Super League players at 22 or 23, but weren’t ready at 19 and released.
“A proper reserve league is definitely something we need to bring back.”