Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Curious case of Benjamin Marshall

The way the switch of top league star to rugby has been handled raises some interesting questions

Benji Marshall. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Benji Marshall. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When the Blues look back on their Benji Marshall experiment, regardless of how it turns out, they might want to take note of the lessons learned, because there will be many.

His switch from league to union has been more difficult than he could have imagined. Frustrations are beginning to surface. There are rumours about a move to Super League in Europe, denied by the Blues.

The franchise, though, has to take some responsibility for how things have turned out.

A former high-profile league player, albeit one reaching the end of his NRL career, was never going to take kindly to having a bit-part role anywhere, but could the franchise have made it easier for him?

His reasons for making the switch to an unfamiliar game were admirable - he wanted to have a crack at getting into the All Blacks.

The Blues, too, showed ambition in chasing him and negotiating his contract with the help of a third-party deal, a package thought to be in the region of $500,000 a year - much less than he was used to getting.

Along the way, though, there has been a series of odd decisions, all made by the Blues or the Auckland Rugby Union, including:

Chasing Beauden Barrett at the same time

Imagine you're Barrett, a 22-year-old starting to make your name with the All Blacks. Yes, the Hurricanes made a few weird decisions last year in getting you to play at fullback when first-five is clearly your best position, but they seem to have put those behind them. Would you want to swap the (near) certainty of playing at No10 each week to vying with Marshall at the Blues? No.

No ITM Cup

Marshall needs to play rugby to get better at rugby. It is clear he should have played for Auckland in the ITM Cup. It would have helped with his fitness - not that flash when he turned up at the Blues by all accounts - but more importantly his game sense. Remember, when he arrived the Blues saw him as a first-five, a position in which you have to make split-second decisions.

A first-five only, then a fullback

Coach John Kirwan was adamant that Marshall was a first-five only, until a 15-minute cameo at fullback in the team's final pre-season match against the Chiefs in Rotorua appeared to change everything. From then, the message was that Marshall would be considered at both No10 and No15. Now, eight games into the season, he covers first-five at a pinch but is concentrating on fullback - where the team is ably served by Charles Piutau, the Blues' most penetrative back.

Off to Waiheke

Marshall has only now been assigned a club - Waiheke, which plays in first grade, the old Senior B, effectively the third tier of Auckland club rugby. Why wasn't he assigned a club at the top level, and why didn't he play during the Blues' bye last weekend? It is understood he might be loaned to another club during the June test break so he can play at a higher level. Very odd.

SOS to Ihaia West

Baden Kerr's hand injury was unfortunate for the player, but in Simon Hickey, Chris Noakes and Benji Marshall the Blues surely have enough cover at No10. Why then did they feel the need to bring in Ihaia West, a 22-year-old Hawkes Bay player with a good running game but not considered good enough for a Super Rugby contract? Franchises can bring in a replacement only if they have two injuries in that position or if they designate it as a "problem" area. It's hardly a vote of confidence, is it?

- NZ Herald

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