Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Benji trial a costly error in Blues plan

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Tomkins may still prove worth big money but Marshall just a fish out of water.

Highlanders fullback Ben Smith exchanges pleasantries with Blues replacement Benji Marshall after Saturday's match. Photo / Getty Images
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith exchanges pleasantries with Blues replacement Benji Marshall after Saturday's match. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues might as well cut their losses on the Benji Marshall experiment before his alleged rugby union education causes a calamity that derails their growing Super 15 title bid.

Neither of Auckland's big-money, glamorous footy purchases are delivering on their exorbitant costs but at least the Warriors are in the ballpark with Sam Tomkins.

Englishman Tomkins makes too many mistakes, and further clangers against the Wests Tigers on Saturday would have been costly in many NRL games. But the wiry fullback showed his capabilities later on, scorching around defenders for a try and producing a wonderful flick pass for another.

Tomkins is coming to grips with an assignment that is more relentless and physically tougher than he is used to. He knows what is required, but isn't capable of it yet and the possibility exists that he never will be. But there is decent hope. Marshall, however, is a fish so far out of water there are camels wandering by. It's not too late for him to have a crack at the English Super League.

This so-called drip feed education of Marshall is not how cross-code transitions are normally done. The deep end is the smart end. The Blues are conducting a charade, covering their tracks. The turnstiles aren't exactly going mad with Marshall mania.

In his league prime, Marshall was a wildly creative risk taker who was an absolute joy to watch. As his long-time coach Tim Sheens reckoned, he was a better runner - rubber-man style - than playmaker. And this was all a long time ago.

Marshall's cross-field style had already gone out of fashion in league and is cringe-inducing in union. His physical courage in coming back from shoulder injury disasters is a memory. Any money was crazy money for Benji. He was awful in a half-hour stint at fullback against the Highlanders on Saturday night. The Blues don't need the distraction. Did someone, yes it was Marshall himself, really mention the All Blacks?

Watch: Rugby: Blues ' Our best performance'

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The Blues' fawning over him would not be so bad if John Kirwan hadn't ignored the home-grown Gareth Anscombe, who plays the same positions although in a different fashion. Anscombe isn't a world-beater, but as he showed in the Chiefs' comeback in Pretoria, has definite and probably underrated class. On attacking potential, he is above Simon Hickey, who has got the tick at No10 for the Blues. The snubbing of Anscombe has never been explained satisfactorily.

The Blues have scored well elsewhere. Jerome Kaino makes an immediate difference with his direct power, and Ma'a Nonu might be a reinvention, although a classic Nonu moment of madness would still be at about three-to-one in the bookies' world.

Lock Hayden Triggs caught the eye against the Highlanders. Triggs looks like an old-school character, someone who might make team life interesting. He gave the Highlanders' game plenty of vigour, an unlikely saviour in what was looming as a crisis at lock. Triggs might have X-factor, a trait not to be sneezed at.

Back to Tomkins. The Warriors' owners paid a fortune to release Tomkins from his Wigan contract. The jury is still out on Tomkins, but it can file back into court on Marshall.

Watch: NRL HIGHLIGHTS:Warriors 42 Tigers 18

Lukewarm on Warriors
Still not going to get excited about the Warriors, because it will only contribute to an atmosphere in which they get carried away with their success and collapse in a heap. They got favourable calls and bounces of the ball against the young West Tigers, who were beaten up by injuries. The Warriors' try just before halftime was sensational but it epitomised a day when it mainly went their way. The Warriors play Cronulla this week. They'll note that Paul Gallen is injured, and think the job is half done. Resurgent Warriors - forget it.

Opportunity missed
Disappointment of the weekend - no live coverage of the Tom Walsh-Jacko Gill shot put showdown. Or if there was any, it was too hard to find. Surely, in this day and age, athletics could have internet streamed the eagerly anticipated battle. There's an argument that Walsh is so far ahead that the rivalry doesn't exist. But that's taking the rational view too far - athletics bosses should be firing the public's imagination whenever they get the chance because they don't get many. The Walsh v Gill battle is already a rivalry in many people's minds, for better or worse. It's a work in progress. So let it breathe.

Pity poor Ropati
Warriors back Jerome Ropati - among sport's most humble and likeable characters by every account - will go down as one of the unluckiest footballers ever. His broken jaw, suffered against the Tigers, is the latest in a list of bad injuries. It does mean that Ropati's long career at the Warriors has grown impossible to judge.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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