Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Benji a player 'on the slide'


There was a time when I would have crawled over broken glass, or even gone to Eden Park, to watch Benji Marshall play league.

At his best, he was up there with the finest entertainer-footballers in any code - Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mark Ella, Carlos Spencer, Christian Cullen et al. Marshall was the most magical of them all in the oval ball codes.

He has even managed to make our dour rugby landscape a little interesting over the past few weeks, as stories dribbled out about meetings with the Blues' bosses. Yarns like these are a dime a dozen in places like English soccer, but they're as rare as a pregnant pause from Justin Marshall in New Zealand rugby.

Will he or won't he play for the Blues? Oh what fun - but the adrenaline rush only goes so far. In the cold light of day, this is more like a dance of the desperate than a powerful rugby outfit making a play for a history-changing playmaker.

Marshall was a footballing genius, but not any more. He's been a player on the slide throughout the NRL season. Both rugby and league have become difficult to play using the sideways dance, which is Marshall's speciality. The Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson may be keeping that flame alive but he's doing it on much younger legs than Marshall possesses. Rugby fields are so well covered with defenders there is only one way ahead and that's straight ahead, which is why Sonny Bill Williams was able to make a successful code switch, eventually.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has claimed Marshall is contemplating the Blues for the "right reasons" but that depends on what you regard as the right reasons.

It's pretty clear Marshall was initially driven by resentment against the Wests Tigers after being dropped to the bench and having a handshake contract deal downgraded. He contemplated rugby only after getting hacked off with his league club.

Marshall will also be heading to a failing rugby side ... which brings us to the other side of the desperate dance. Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry didn't live up to the fanfare in year one. They got off to a fast start but when the competition got serious, the Blues fell away badly.

They didn't look any better than all the other useless Blues teams we've been lumbered with over the past decade or so - the 2013 record of six wins is on a par with what the much-maligned Pat Lam averaged over four disappointing seasons. And the Blues have lost the gamebreaker Rene Ranger and Anthony Boric, who should have developed into the senior Blues lock by now.

So Marshall is going to a team that is as dysfunctional as his career has become. No10 would be his rightful rugby position but if the rumours are right, Marshall would be shunted to fullback by the Blues with incumbent Charles Piutau taking on the Rene Ranger-type role in the midfield.

This would require a heck of an adjustment from Marshall and include discovering when to kick and when to run. But Marshall isn't being hired to play kick ping-pong, which means he is going to dance his way into a fair deal of trouble along his learning curve. Marshall is not the greatest of defenders either, and there is no place to hide on the footy field these days. As for bums on seats ... that over-inflated theory will only last so long if Marshall fails to deliver.

It would be fantastic to see Marshall reliving his glory days but sorry, just can't see it happening. As for Kirwan and Henry, there are major doubts about them as well after the Blues' 2013 disintegration. Their bid for Marshall is opportunism, but hold the optimism.

All hail Chiefs - and Jake White

What can be said that hasn't already been said about the mighty Chiefs, Super 15 champions for a second successive season?

They have engineered one of the great turnarounds in New Zealand sport and, what's more, done it by turning good players into terrific players.

Coach Dave Rennie, captain Craig Clarke and co deserve the highest accolades. But Super 15 coach of the year is the Brumbies supremo Jake White. The South African World Cup winner worked a near miracle getting that lineup anywhere near the final.

Strauss a cut above most

Andrew Strauss, the former England cricket captain, is all class. It was humbling to hear his clear-headed, generous analysis of the ratbag English batsman Kevin Pietersen during the latest Ashes contest. Toxic text messager Pietersen's behaviour towards Strauss was abominable when they were in the England team together.

Internet soccer: caution needed

Despite wanting to embrace what the internet revolution can do for sports watching, the new English soccer season is being approached with trepidation. I reacted enthusiastically to Coliseum's entry into the market this year after it was announced they had scored the Premier League broadcasting rights ahead of Sky.

This deal makes every EPL match available, both live and on demand.

"Don't speak too soon," warned some readers ... and with good cause, I must concede. Coliseum has a test video on its website which initially, incredibly, contained no actual soccer action. The video I have watched on my computer screen (via the faster broadband) was okay, but well short of the best high-definition (HD) TV standard although an email exchange with Coliseum indicated work was still being done to improve the quality.

This is a new frontier but there are almost certainly going to be disappointed soccer fans, although some are excited by moves such as coverage of English championship games on free-to-air Sommet.

The downsides, or grumbling points, are significant, though, and they include a general confusion about what is going on. Those used to the best HD coverage are going to be disappointed in general. Those not dedicated to watching soccer will give the EPL - a worldwide phenomenon - a miss apart from the limited free-to-air and Sky coverage.

Many people are still confused about how to get the video and picture from computer to TV, or need equipment/broadband upgrades to do so. (In terms of viewing quality, the jury is out on whether it is worth making this transfer.)

Faster broadband, which delivers the best-quality picture, is still a niche market.

At this point, Coliseum's EPL coverage has leaped away from a route most sports fans are prepared to chase. The various broadcasting deals mean our soccer coverage has become wider, but the access splintered.

Sky's one-stop-shop approach has been ripped apart, although this whole business has been an education and we'll all get wiser to the changing broadcasting landscape.

Prediction: considerable growing pains with an exciting payoff down the track.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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