Benji Marshall's desire to supplement his NRL riches with a lucrative short-term deal in Japanese club rugby will not jeopardise the Kiwis' defence of their World Cup crown next year because a temporary code hop will not happen until his contract with the Wests Tigers expires in 2015.
Although he is cosseted away in a pre-season camp on the NSW Central Coast, Marshall had the league world abuzz yesterday when media reports claimed he wanted an immediate release from the Tigers to emulate Sonny Bill Williams by cashing in on his footballing stardom in Asia.
Marshall's manager Martin Tauber said he was seeking a meeting with Wests Tigers chief executive Stephen Humphreys to explore the Kiwi captain's potential to follow the lead of Williams, who will join the Sydney Roosters for a one-season deal in February after fulfilling his commitments to the Panasonic Wild Knights.
It turned out to be a short discussion hours after news broke that Marshall was apparently heading offshore.
"Let me put your minds at rest. This will not be happening," Humphreys said.
"I have spoken with Martin Tauber, who assures me Benji is totally committed to his contract with Wests Tigers for the next three seasons.
"Benji Marshall will remain an integral member of our team and will not be seeking a release from his contract."
Amid a day of contradictory statements that opened with a report that Marshall would quit the Tigers, Tauber also added to the confusion when initially saying that, if the Tigers and Australian Rugby League Commission gave the playmaker dispensation to join a Japanese club, "it would be for the 2013-14 Japanese season".
That timeline would have surprised the New Zealand Rugby League given the Japanese rugby competition coincides with the World Cup in England, France and Ireland next October-November.
However, hours later, Tauber eased those concerns when insisting Marshall would lead the Kiwis at the tournament.
When asked if Marshall would try and gain a temporary release at the end of next season, Tauber said: "No. He's got the World Cup where he'll lead his country."
Although that development was welcome for the NZRL, chief executive Jim Doyle said he had always been confident Marshall was devoted to the Kiwis' title defence after speaking to him in Townsville after last month's trans-Tasman test.
"There have been no discussions whatsoever about him not being available or looking to potentially pursue other activities," he said.
If Marshall was to ever play in Japan, it would be after his Wests Tigers' contract expired at the end of the 2015 season, a campaign that could end the league component of his career.
Tauber said Marshall, 27, was interested in playing rugby in France or Japan before he retired.
"He may very well take the opportunity to go to Japan or France to play the 15-man game. But, at the present time, he's with the Tigers, so the fan base and the sponsors who are probably quite concerned about the press can rest easy, he's not going anywhere."
Marshall was prevented from playing in Japan in 2009 by then NRL chief executive David Gallop, but revisited the income-generating ploy with Tauber again while Williams was in the process of returning to league after a 12-game stint at the Wild Knights worth $1.3 million.
Tauber thought Williams' re-admission could set a precedent for NRL stars keen secure their financial futures in the rival code and had held preliminary discussion with Japanese officials.
"You can't blame Benji for looking at his options, just like Sonny Bill Williams. These players only have a limited time span to earn money from playing sport."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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