Rugby: Nerves for new kid Benji

Benji Marshall, a former Kiwis international, has come to the Blues from NRL side Wests Tigers in the hope of making the All Blacks. Photo / Andrew Warner
Benji Marshall, a former Kiwis international, has come to the Blues from NRL side Wests Tigers in the hope of making the All Blacks. Photo / Andrew Warner

Benji Marshall has spoken of his nervousness at swapping league for rugby union at the Blues' Super Rugby squad announcement this morning.

Marshall, a former Kiwis international, has come to the Blues from NRL side Wests Tigers in the hope of making the All Blacks.

He said he had no preference in terms of position in the 15-man game. Most believe he will play fullback or first-five.

"I am pretty nervous," he admitted at the Eden Park function. "There's a lot of unknowns for me. I've been in an environment for 11 years ... [but] that's the exciting thing about it.

"I'm coming in as a new kid in the team. I'm hoping I can bring what I know into the team, not only as a person but also as a leader."

Marshall is hoping he can lead the Blues' revival, not only on the field but off, where he will be a big drawcard in getting fans to flock to Eden Park.

"Success brings the crowds back and, as [coach John Kirwan] said, it will bring the franchise back to where it belongs."

Kirwan acknowledged expectations would be higher during his second year in charge, saying the "honeymoon" period was over. But he was thrilled to have Marshall on board to help improve on last season's 10th-place finish.

"Everyone's really excited about [Marshall's] involvement. He's already been in the organisation and everyone is impressed with his professionalism and what he's going to bring.''

After briefly leading the Blues in 2012 in the absence of Keven Mealamu, Luke Braid has been named at the helm fulltime and Kirwan thinks the flanker is just the man for the job.

"We just think he's the type of guy we need from an attitude point of view,'' Kirwan said. "He's not scared to drive high quality at training, he's not scared of anyone so he'll challenge people including the coaching staff and I think the consistency of his rugby is great for all of us.

"I think he's really going to grow into that role and I know he's really looking forward to the challenge.''

Kirwan said he was excited about a much more balanced squad in 2014 as he heads into his second campaign in charge.

"We had a really long look at what we needed and that was a little bit more experience to complement the excitement of our young guys,'' Kirwan said.

"What we've tried to do is bring in some of that experience and keep the excitement, so you'll see the squad is a lot more balanced.''

That experience comes in the form of World Cup-winning All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu, who have all returned to the franchise following stints away.
"Woody's had a year away and I see him as one of our main franchise guys. He's had his OE and he's back with us and he'll really shore up that front row,'' Kirwan said.

"Getting Jerome back is outstanding for us, he's been overseas but he realised that he still has dreams of being an All Black and wants to be a Blues man and really contribute to helping the squad.

"Ma'a is excited to come back to the Blues. We've got Ces (Francis Saili) there but Ma'a just brings a whole lot of experience and is obviously world class so I think that balance will work well.''

Only three players in the 32-man squad have yet to pull on the Blues jersey - Marshall, promising Auckland lock Patrick Tuipulotu, experienced campaigner Tom Donnelly.

The 2014 Blues squad:

Hookers
Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, James Parsons

Props
Charlie Faumuina, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tony Woodcock

Locks
Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Culum Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu

Loose forwards
Kane Barrett, Luke Braid, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Brendon O'Connor, Peter Saili

Halfbacks
Jamison Gibson-Park, Bryn Hall, Piri Weepu

First five-eighths
Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes

Midfielders
Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison

Outside backs
Frank Halai, Benji Marshall, George Moala, Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia

Wider training group
Joe Edwards, Simon Hickey, Tevita Li, Tom Murday, Albert Nikor

- APNZ

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