Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Marshall yes but Barrett no

League legend verbally agrees to join Blues, while Hurricanes ace shows loyalty by sticking with his franchise.

Benji Marshall has given verbal confirmation he will sign with the Blues but Beauden Barrett confirmed last night he will be staying with the Hurricanes.

Barrett, having been seriously tempted initially by the Blues' offer, has decided to sign on for more with the Hurricanes.

"For reasons of loyalty, Beauden has told us he will be staying with the Hurricanes," said Blues coach John Kirwan. "It would have been great to have him here but I understand his reasons."

This morning Barrett sent a message via Twitter, outlining his plans.

"Pleased to say I have recommitted to @Hurricanesrugby for next season I feel we have unfinished business. Thanks for your support," he tweeted.

Marshall, on the other hand, is believed to have made his decision, and is likely to be unveiled as a Blues player on Saturday after his Friday night NRL commitments.

The Blues have offered him a two-year contract - believed to be worth about $500,000 a season - exclusively out of their own funds. The level of investment reflects the confidence the Blues have that Marshall can make a significant impact.

Interest in the NRL and Kiwis star will be massive which partly justifies the enormous salary. But the Blues coaching staff are also confident they are buying a player with the ability to make a significant difference: a player who could unpick defences and create space for others.

While Kirwan has said he sees Marshall as a potential first-five, the Blues are prepared to be patient and experiment initially. Previous league converts have taken time to settle - especially those who have tried to slot in immediately at No 10.

Marshall is likely to be introduced to rugby as a fullback or second-five - with a view to converting him into a first-five once he has found his feet and better understands the code.

Barrett's decision to reject the Blues came after weeks of reflection and analysis.

The 22-year-old's interest in shifting to Auckland was originally driven by a desire to be exposed to the Blues' experienced coaching team of Kirwan, Graham Henry, Mick Byrne and Grant Doorey.

Barrett is thought to have been disillusioned by the Hurricanes' coaching staff's decision midway through the recent campaign to shift him to fullback.

The Hurricanes did not build on their impressive 2012 season and there was clearly some doubt in Barrett's mind as to whether staying would enable him to develop and enhance his game as he tries to climb the All Black rankings.

He is third in the national first-five pecking order but his skill-set is ideally suited to test football and many can see him usurping Aaron Cruden in time.

But after weeks of contemplation, he's believed to have concluded that on balance, the Hurricanes - to whom he has a deep emotional attachment given his father played for the franchise - is the right place for him to play.

The Blues may have other targets in their sights to play first-five but they showed considerable faith this year in Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr - both of whom could be retained and asked to drive the team next year while Marshall eases into his new code.

- NZ Herald

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