Kearney shows courage over captaincy decision

By Michael Brown

Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images.
Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images.

It's not a decision Benji Marshall welcomed but one Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney felt he had to make and he should be applauded for having the courage to strip the captaincy from the playmaker.

It would have been easy to stick with the status quo but that hasn't been all that successful in recent times. Marshall was captain of the side when they won the 2010 Four Nations, but New Zealand have won just one of their last six matches, a run which includes four straight defeats to Australia.

Kearney hopes Marshall will feel less encumbered and will be able to focus on his role as a playmaker rather than worrying too much about everything that comes with captaincy both on and off the field. He has become tired of media commitments, and was a no-show at last year's captain's run press conference before the Anzac test in Auckland.

There's little doubt the 28-year-old is one of the best players in rugby league when on song and the Kiwis need him to be near the top of his game if they are going to succeed again at this year's World Cup.

He was instrumental in New Zealand's World Cup win in 2008, when he scored a try and kicked two conversions in the 34-20 final win over Australia, and excelled again at the 2010 Four Nations, when he won the Golden Boot Award for international footballer of the year. But he has been patchy over the past couple of seasons for both club and country.

Last season the Wests Tigers half topped the NRL with most try assists (37) and linebreak assists (37) but countered that with 41 errors _ the most of anyone in the regular season.
Even his new coach at the Tigers, Mick Potter, is trying to develop him into a more consistent player.

"He is on a different stratosphere with some of the things he can do,'' Potter told Sydney's Daily Telegraph this week. "So it's about getting him to work with the team and realise that not all the time they are on the same wavelength.''

Kearney spoke with Marshall this week and said it was a "very tough conversation''.

"Benji is an immensely proud New Zealander and his desire was to continue in the captaincy role,'' Kearney said. "Although this decision has been a difficult one, it has been made in the best interests of the team, and Benji will remain an integral part of the Kiwis going forward.''

Marshall's replacement will be unveiled tomorrow and, while Newcastle's Jeremy Smith is an option, Warriors skipper Simon Mannering is the obvious choice and would welcome the role.

"It would be a massive honour,'' said Mannering, who was vice-captain last year. "I really enjoyed my time playing under Benji the last few years. He's been there for some special victories. I definitely think he can hold his head high moving on from the role and hopefully he still plays his own game and plays well in a Kiwis jersey.''

Captaincy changes in any sport are rare at international level for anything other than than disciplinary reasons. Last year Ross Taylor was deposed as New Zealand cricket and in 2011 Phil Burrows was replaced by Dean Couzins as New Zealand hockey captain.
Marshall first captained the Kiwis in a World Cup match against England in 2008 and was given the job fulltime in 2009 following Nathan Cayless' retirement.

Losing the `C' beside your name doesn't mean you can't still be a leader and Marshall would do well to remember that.

- APNZ

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