In the modern era of professional rugby with more and more games being added to an ever expanding tournament, racking up 50 caps for a franchise can often be achieved in just three seasons.
That may diminish the achievement somewhat to bystanders but there’s no denying Benson Stanley has every reason to celebrate earning 50 caps when he takes the field to face the Queensland Reds on Friday night.
From putting his fledgling rugby career on hold to finish his degree in Commerce, to a career threatening hamstring injury which put an end to his season in 2009 and numerous concussions which nearly forced him to retire, it is a testament to Stanley’s resolve and sheer determination that he has reached this remarkable milestone.
A well spoken yet incredibly modest Stanley is coy about expressing the significance of his 50th appearance in the Blues uniform, however there is no doubt it means a great deal to him.
“Of course it will be a special occasion but it’s not something I’ve thought about much,” he said.
“The seasons are a lot longer now so people can bring up 50 caps in three seasons if they play most of the games so it’s changing a wee bit from the Super 12 days but it’s still a milestone that if you reach, you look back on at the end of your career and say it was pretty good.”
Reaching the achievement after going through so much hardship and adversity makes it all the sweeter for Stanley.
After a promising debut season for the Blues in 2008, Stanley tore his hamstring off the bone in the Blues’ first match in 2009 against the Western Force and was ruled out for the rest of the season.
There were many uncertainties about what such a serious injury may do to Stanley’s career, but after months of pain-staking rehabilitation he returned to action to captain Auckland in the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup.
However head knocks began to plague the hard-hitting defender and last year a clash against the Reds in Brisbane once again cut his season short.
It took until months after the end of the 2011 season for Stanley to recommit to playing this year after seeking the advice of numerous specialists, but he said the setbacks he had faced during his career only served to make him appreciate the game he loves all the more.
“You certainly enjoy it, injuries are often a timely reminder that you aren’t bullet proof and things could end at any moment,” he said.
“They were a good reminder for me just in case you become complacent that I’m really fortunate to do what I do and I’ve just got to do it well.”
Blues head coach Pat Lam was full of praise for Stanley who has seen him progress from a promising player for Ponsonby, coached him through Auckland and the Blues and watched him go on to make three appearances for the All Blacks in 2010.
“It’s a testament to his resilience that he has been able to reach the 50 cap mark,” Lam said.
“He’s a great team man and he’s a 100 per cent man. He’s also a good family man too and he epitomises what most coaches want in a player. He gives everything on and off the field so it’s a great achievement for him.”
Stanley has played every game for the Blues this season but has been given a reprieve on Friday as Rudi Wulf returns from a shoulder injury to start on the wing. Stanley is sure to add plenty of impact off the bench and is under no illusions as to how difficult the encounter against the Reds will be.
“The Reds are doing it a bit tougher than they would have hoped, they’ve had a lot of injuries and they’ve battled really hard but they’ve still been competitive in games and if you give them a sniff they’re going to take it,” he said.
“We’re obviously coming off some pretty bad form too so both teams are going out to prove a lot and everyone wants to get a win under their belt and just as importantly play some good footy so they’ll be desperate and we’ll be desperate.”