Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Benji Marshall: The pluses and the minuses

Sonny Bill Williams was 23 when he headed off on his five-year rugby expedition. It took him several years until his instincts became attuned to the nuances of his new sporting code.

Benji Marshall is 28 and set to begin a similar journey. Several Super Rugby sides say they are keen to sign him for next year. Wynne Gray rates Marshall on a rugby scorecard.

Pluses

• Entertainment package with no look passes and sidesteps. Think Carlos Spencer with the knee kicks, dummies and banana kicks: Benji brings similar attributes to be a crowd magnet.

• Competitive, athletic and skilled. Understands professional sport, the rigours of training and demands about playing to a consistently high standard.

He is only 28 and a Kiwi. Might be wearied by NRL but rugby offers a new challenge.

• Goalkicks. Might need to up his percentage rates but knows how to kick the Steeden so will work out the Gilbert or the adidas.

• Has played professional sport for more than a decade. The demands are ingrained in his nature, he is in tune with that workload.

• Extensive experience with 193 NRL games for the Tigers and Kiwi tests and has captained the Kiwis. Leadership experience will be needed at the Blues.

• Plays first receiver, second receiver, wing, fullback. Versatile enough to cover a range of roles and makes things happen.

• Was tempted to go to rugby in Japan in 2009 so this is no spur of the moment, let's have a shot at this other code moment. Has had time to think of the ramifications.

Minuses

• He would have to unpick all his instincts about league. It's not the standard kick, pass run moments which will trouble Marshall but those red-hot episodes when he finds himself under the gun and has to find a solution.

• Might eat up much of the money which could be used to woo Beauden Barrett to the Blues. Barrett is the future, a blue chip investment who has played All Black tests and is on the climb.

• Might need a hefty salary. Gets a decent dollar and a range of other deals in Sydney to push him up towards the seven figure mark so the Blues will have to be innovative about filling his wallet.

• Shoulders. They have taken a pounding and multiple bouts of surgery but in recent seasons he has appeared either more robust or smart about where he goes on defence.

• Diehard leaguies say Marshall's impact has dimmed and with his minimal rugby experience, the question will be whether the marketing interest is strong enough to carry his rugby greenness.

• Marshall will come with a growing coterie. It became an issue with SBW and not one the NZRU or any others solved.

- NZ Herald

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