Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

League: The amicable quickie divorce

Parting of the ways will go down as Marshall's most polished performance for the Blues

No hard feelings as coach John Kirwan (left) and Benji Marshall confirm their amicable separation. Photo / Richard Robinson
No hard feelings as coach John Kirwan (left) and Benji Marshall confirm their amicable separation. Photo / Richard Robinson

Benji Marshall saved his best performance for the Blues until the end.

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There were smiles and laughter yesterday at Eden Park in what became a eulogy for his failed rugby experiment. His Blues career, all 212 minutes of it, was marked by short cameo appearances and this final act alongside coach John Kirwan was his most polished.

If nothing else materialises, Marshall at least proved he shouldn't lack for job opportunities. His profile and ability to relate to people were big reasons why the Blues chased him so hard, and here was a final reminder of what could have been.

Strangely, though, in the 16-minute press conference in which he and Kirwan praised each other's bravery, neither admitted to any regrets.

Kirwan, asked if he would have done anything differently after signing Marshall from the Tigers and presenting him with such an optimistic flourish at this same venue only months earlier, replied: "Nothing."

This was Marshall's stage, though, and he performed his part admirably, saying he wanted to return to league — hopefully in the NRL — and would do so a "better person".

"I think we're pretty courageous to stand up and say this hasn't worked," Marshall said. "As a stubborn person and someone who wants to succeed in everything I do, this is the first time I've had to say I haven't been good enough. It's a pretty hard thing to do.

"I've spoken to the [Blues] boys and that was probably the hardest part. They knew something was going on ... when it's the tough part of the year like it is now and we're not going as well, it might look a bit worse, but it shouldn't affect the way they are going because realistically everyone else has been contributing [more] to the games than what I have."

The reality was that at 29, Marshall felt the clock was ticking. It was either dig in with no guarantee of a better future after playing the rest of the year at a much lower level, or play out his final days in top-level league.

"The times I felt under pressure the most [in rugby] I felt I resorted back to what I know best and to what I had instilled in me ... and that was playing rugby league. Especially in the weekend just gone, I felt a big difference, I felt I was playing a different game to everyone else."

Asked how much of the responsibility lay with him, Kirwan said: "For me it's a Michael Jordan moment. Both parties showed incredible courage to try something different and it didn't work out. Benji showed incredible courage to say it's not working and so have we and we've moved on."

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There was time for a joke: "I feel fit, playing 212 minutes will get you fit," Marshall said with a wink to Kirwan. "I'm joking." And then another about Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney ringing about his availability for the Anzac Day test against Australia: "No, but he did wish me well."

Then he was gone, exiting stage right. Sideshow over, now the Blues can devote their full attention to winning matches.

- NZ Herald

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