Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Duffie gets time to make the transition

Matt Duffie is interviewed during a Blues super rugby training session. Photo / Getty Images
Matt Duffie is interviewed during a Blues super rugby training session. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues hope Matt Duffie is more Sonny Bill Williams than Benji Marshall, and, while Tana Umaga has opted to ease his league convert into the season, the former Melbourne Storm player appears set to make a good transition to his new code.

Duffie is one of three reasonably high-profile former league players making the switch to New Zealand Super Rugby teams. The others are former Warriors - Ngani Laumape at the Hurricanes and Glen Fisiiahi at the Chiefs.

Duffie, a 25-year-old who played rugby at St Kentigern College, has been excellent in pre-season, and scored a stunning try against the Chiefs when finishing off a Rieko Ioane break.

"I think he's still growing that [confidence]," coach Tana Umaga said. "He's been exceptional, he's growing every game, but I didn't want to chuck him in for the first game if he wasn't totally comfortable with rugby."

More league players are deciding to make the switch the 15-man game, and, while Williams has been a success for the All Blacks and Chiefs (and before that Crusaders), Marshall, now back playing league, was a high-profile failure at the Blues in 2014.

One of Duffie's main attributes is his speed so, providing he can develop his positioning on defence, he shouldn't find the transition too difficult. Having to think, rather than react instinctively, slows the feet and is unacceptable at this level, as Marshall highlighted.

The outlook is also positive for Fisiiahi, another 25-year-old who was a good chance to start on the right wing for the Chiefs against the Crusaders tonight in Christchurch but for a knee problem.

Laumape, 22, is slightly different, and while he got the first opportunity of the trio with a start against the Brumbies in Canberra last night, he did so at second-five, a position which brings with it never-ending questions on defence.

He admitted this week that in his first pre-season match for the Hurricanes he made a tackle and went to run 10m back - a habit from his league days - only to stop when receiving strange looks from his new teammates.

He joined Vince Aso in the midfield for last year's beaten finalists, two men attempting to fill the hole left by Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

"I don't think anyone could replace Ma'a and Conrad," he said. "The boys who are competing for the midfield spots have to do what's best for the Hurricanes because Ma'a and Conrad are legends of the game."

Early reports on Laumape have been good, however, and if SBW can thrive in the No12 jersey, the former Palmerston North Boys' High School first XV player should be able to quickly find his rhythm.

- NZ Herald

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