Kirwan, Dalton head to Sydney to woo Benji

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 07:41 19/07/2013
Benji Marshall
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WOOING BENJI: When Blues coach Sir John Kirwan makes his pitch to Benji Marshall he has plenty of options up his sleeve.

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When Blues coach Sir John Kirwan makes his pitch to Benji Marshall in Sydney this Sunday he will discuss three positional options, the prospect of an extended break after the NRL season, and suggest a two-year deal to bring the Wests Tigers star to Auckland.

Kirwan will be accompanied by outgoing Blues chief executive Andy Dalton for phase two of courting Marshall.

Dalton's presence signals the start of genuine negotiations; he is the businessman who understands the bank balance and fine print, though a formal offer is unlikely at this stage.

While Kirwan sits down with Marshall after he takes on the Warriors tonight, Dalton will talk numbers with his manager, Martin Tauber, and attempt to present a package more appealing than the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels, who have emerged as a strong contender.

"It's the next stage; a case of moving it to the next level. We'll be a lot closer to knowing which direction we're going after this meeting," Kirwan told Fairfax Media last night.

"This weekend is about sitting down together and making sure we're on the same page; give Benji the vision of the franchise and talk to him about what we want from players coming into the franchise.

"We're not going to be rushed or pressured about the possibility of losing him - that's not what we are about."

Kirwan is prepared to be flexible on a number of fronts. He will welcome Marshall's input and respect his right to map his own future. In an ideal world, though, Marshall would skip this year's rugby league World Cup and sit out the NPC to refresh for the next challenge of his coveted sporting career.

"When the Tigers finish if he does decide to come to us and we can work some sort of deal out then we'll give him a bloody good break because the next two years of his life are going to be pretty intense.

"Most contracts are two-years. Not too many players want to do five years as they don't know where the market is going. We'll see what he comes to the party with.

"Two years is probably enough for both of us to get an idea. For me it's a case of getting this first face-to-face meeting out of the way and seeing if this next phase is possible."

One advantage Kirwan has is his connections in Japanese rugby. Having coach the national team for four years, he would be able to facilitate a lucrative 12-game deal - worth up to $1 million - to offset Marshall's loss of earnings from switching codes. A move to Japan, however, may be better suited to the end of 2014, once Marshall has settled.

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"That has to come from him. Ideally we'd want him to come over and rest after the season, then have a big preseason. Japan would be something I would be waiting for them to talk about rather than me offer," he said.

Kirwan believes Marshall won't need any XVs experience to be ready for next year's Super Rugby season. He feels the 28-year-old could handle playing fullback and second five-eighth, as well as No.10.

"That's one of the things I'm going to talk to him about. We'll be talking about positional play. At the end of the day he's a lot like Sonny Bill [Williams]. He's a special player. Benji could play at fullback and in the midfield.

"All you've got to do is look at the quality of the player. You've got to realise he's played rugby until he was 16. He's not foreign to the game. He played a lot of touch [rugby]. He knows [All Blacks halfback] Piri [Weepu] really well.

"The most important thing would be not to put any pressure on him to perform straight away in the transition period."

- Fairfax Media

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