In one of the least surprising pieces of news to come out of Super Rugby is the fact that NRL star Benji Marshall, currently contracted to the Wests Tigers NRL franchise, is to sign for two years with the Auckland Blues Super Rugby team for next season.
This is not the first time players have crossed codes from league to union. Sonny Bill Williams has made a career out of being not so much a player as a commodity, sold to the highest bidder.
It’s fair to say though that Marshall’s departure is not the most amicable. His league team have struggled this season, coach Mick Potter will probably face the axe himself at the end of the season. Marshall has been vocal about his displeasure in contract cuts, and the direction his career is going. At 28 years old Marshall may be an old soldier, but he’s certainly not ready for the scrap heap yet.
Tigers fans reacted badly to a video post of Marshall wearing a Blues jersey when the formal announcement of his signing was made this week. Some fans making veiled threats about Marshall being a target for onfield injury, others simply wanting him gone. The Blues organisation however is nothing short of ecstatic to have the powerhouse fullback in their house. Blues star and All Blacks legend Kevin Mealamu stated there was a lot of excitement within the camp, Kieran Read similarly expressed happiness, albeit with a note of caution, quoted as saying ”It’s [Rugby Union] a different game so he’ll take his time and hopefully come good.”
This could also mean a potential Black Jersey for the formaer Kiwis captain, again following in the footsteps of Sonny Bill Williams. That said, I was never a fan of Williams, who struck me as little short of mercenary. He came here for his own purposes, served them, and is now back playing league again. Marshall seems to be looking for the next step in his career, and I do think this move to the Blues is a solid decision.
What happens next for Marshall really comes down to how well coach John Kirwan utilises Marshall’s skills. Marshall has the foot speed, and he knows how to read and capitalise on gaps. As long as the forward pack are laying down a solid base, and giving Marshall something to work with, I believe he will be an asset to the Blues team, and long term maybe even to the All Blacks.
That said, he does have some adjustments to make. Williams made a lot of silly mistakes early in his tenure with New Zealand rugby. If Marshall learns from that, and avoids making those same mistake – like shoulder charging in tackles for example – he should have a good run over here.
Super Rugby next season is looking to already be off to a very interesting start, some 6 months before it even begins! Welcome home Benji, nice to have you back!
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