Benji and SBW to play small-town touch tournament

Benji Marshall, along with Sonny Bill Williams, will play at the annual Whakatane open touch tournament. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall, along with Sonny Bill Williams, will play at the annual Whakatane open touch tournament. Photo / Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams and Benji Marshall normally love nothing more than performing on the big stage. They thrive on the attention and adulation.

But tomorrow they will forego the usual glamour which surrounds them when lining up on the bumpy ground of Rugby Park in Whakatane, with its one small stand looking over the Mokorua Bush Scenic Reserve, for the annual Whakatane open touch tournament.

Marshall, the Kiwis' rugby league captain who hails from the small Bay of Plenty town, is a regular at the tournament and will be joined in the Baa Baaz team by past and present All Blacks Piri Weepu, Tana Umaga and Christian Cullen.

All Black Williams, who is in training for his first New Zealand heavyweight title fight against Richard Tutaki at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton on February 8, is also listed on the team sheet and is expected to make an appearance for the star-studded team.

Williams has the sport in his family, as his sister, Niall, is a New Zealand representative and won a silver medal in last year's World Cup in Edinburgh.

The man who instigated the tournament 26 years ago and remains at the helm, George Rogers, said every year the tournament seemed to get bigger and bigger and included teams from Australia.

"We have the maximum of 72 teams entered this year, as we have done for the past few years," Rogers said. "Unfortunately, this has meant a few of the top teams, ones that have been coming for years, have missed out. We have always run our entries on a first-in, first-served basis."

This year is the first for a Christchurch side, appropriately named The AfterShocks, while teams from Brisbane and Sydney are also included in the line-up.

"We're gaining international fame," Rogers joked.

The tournament gets under way at 6pm tomorrow before it's decided on Saturday, with $15,000 in prizemoney up for grabs.

- APNZ

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