It seems that players shifting from rugby league to rugby union is a fashion trend these days. Some make the transition sucessfully, while others don’t. Some legends of rugby league grow to become legends of the fifteen man code also – Brad Thorn is one name who springs to mind. A fine player who has played both codes very successfully and has a career that spans over the last 20 years.
So, anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to this seasons Super Rugby competition knows that the latest convert is NRL and West Tigers Superstar Benji Marshall.
Having signed for an Auckland-based franchise, the Blues, Benji Marshall is under the watchful eye of not only Blues fans but the eyes of all rugby fans all over the world. It’s tough being in the spotlight for some players. It requires consistent game play week in and week out. So far, that isn’t what we have seen from Marshall. And I, myself admit I am a little bit skeptical that he can make it in this competition.
I am in no way disrespecting Marshall. I admire him a lot and have a lot of respect for him. And also being a West Tigers fan, I was a little more than excited when I read that he had signed for my beloved Blues. Many fans had high expectations for his arrival. However the question remained as to where he would fit in the squad. Was he being handed the number 10 jersey? Or perhaps they would place him at fullback or even on the wing? No matter, the Blues had to find a spot for him. It couldn’t have been an easy discision for Blues coach Sir John Kirwan, as he already had a line up of some very talented backs for Marshall to compete with for playing time.
No less, after a shaky pre-season and not much game time at all, Marshall was named as starting fullback for this weekends game against the Lions in Johannesburg. This came as a relief for a lot of fans, with most of them taking to social media stating how excited they were to “finally” see Benji Marshall and his twinkletoes hit the field.
However, I wasn’t so convinced. It’s not that I have lost any love for Marshall because that is certainly not the case. My reasoning for not being as excited as the rest of the Blues Army seemed to be? Slotting Marshall in as the starting fullback meant shifting Charles Piutau out to the wing.
Piutau is in my opinion, one of the most exciting young players New Zealand has seen for some time. Not only that, but by moving Piutau out to the wing, this meant that young Blues rookie Tevita Li didn’t make the team for the Lions game. Both Piutau and Li have been playing extremely well and it didn’t make sense to put them out to make space for someone who might just make it.
Now, I realise that this may sound very critical and may seem like I am only having a jab at Marshall but shouldn’t he have to earn a starting spot on the team just like everyone else? I know he has a lot of experience in the NRL and is famous for his side step which has on many occasions lead to a try or two. He even captained the 2008 Rugby League World Cup winning Kiwis. He does have a pretty impressive history in rugby league. But he hadn’t played rugby union since he was 16 years old before playing pre-season for the Blues this year. So, you can imagine how nervous I was when I glanced at the starting line up to play the Lions.
It’s not that I don’t want Benji Marshall to do well, because I do but going from warming the bench a few weeks ago, to being omitted from the team altogether last week, it seemed odd for him to then be announced as starting fullback. It came as a bit of a shock to me actually.
But no less, Marshall went out onto the field on Saturday night, wearing the number 15 jersey with pride and confidence and showing that he was there to fight for his spot in the Blues team.
And did he prove me wrong? Well, yes he did. In quite the fashion too. He looked good on the attack. His defence looked seamless at times and he did not too shabby at staying in position.
Benji Marshall will be the first to admit that he has some work to do to improve but any mistakes can surely be forgiven after the crossed the line in the dying minutes of the game to secure the Blues their second bonus point in their 39-36 defeat to the Lions.
This is where that famous side step came into play and no one was going to bring him down. He was getting over that line whether the Lions were going to let him or not. And he certainly got there.
Getting out of the grasp of two defenders, his quick feet got him over the line in style. That is something he should definitely be proud of.
It was a solid performamce, though not quite perfect but it was enough to give me some confidence that maybe he does belong in the team and I shouldn’t be so harsh.
I am now waiting anxiously for the next few weeks to find out if he can do it again. I have everything crossed that he can, just so long as Piutau still gets to start.
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