Wilson: Super Rugby hollering for a Marshall

JEFF WILSON
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013
Benji Marshall
Photosport
SPECULATION GROWS: Benji Marshall's next move remains a mystery after his exit from the Tigers was confirmed.

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OPINION: Rugby has always been rich in its traditions and history and as New Zealanders we can be very protective of our national game and resistant to change.

But we all know change is inevitable. The rugby landscape is forever shifting and the fight to be No 1 will always remain a driving force.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan is connected to those traditions but also aware of the landscape that is professional football.

As much as he appreciates the need to win, he also understands the value of entertainment.

He has constantly talked about the "Blues" style of rugby - the dynamic and exciting brand that brings fans through the gates.

The experience of seeing it live should never be underestimated. Rugby is exhilarating when played without fear and inhibition.

So when the Blues entertain the prospect of Benji Marshall running out on Eden Park, they not only see the rugby possibilities, but the entertainment value of such a player.

Have no doubt, Marshall's credentials as an athlete are the first consideration. But the immediate impact he would have off the field should not be underestimated.

I would have thought resistance to the idea of the super-athlete would have gone after Sonny Bill Williams proved his worth for New Zealand rugby.

Of course we would have liked to have seen it for longer than we did, but I believe Marshall could have a similar sort of impact if he followed the path to rugby union.

For a number of years we wondered what great rugby league playmakers like Alfie Langer, Darren Lockyer, Ricky Stuart, Andrew Johns and Stacey Jones could have done in our game.

But they remained hypothetical thoughts. We could soon see the reality.

The skills that Marshall possesses are undeniable, and perfect for rugby. His ability to run, catch, pass, kick and create transfer seamlessly.

We have to remember he's a kiwi, and played rugby in his youth. I'd guess it's still in his blood. So if purpose is there, if passion is there, if his willingness to learn is strong, and he believes he has no limitations, there's no reason why we couldn't see Marshall as a rugby international.

Don't get me wrong. There's an element of risk here. He's not the league player he once was. But there's an old saying: Form is temporary and class is permanent.

Maybe the challenge is the inspiration, or the invigoration, that Benji needs, and why not in a familiar place like New Zealand?

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The Blues know the risks but they will see this as an investment, more than a roll of the dice. Kirwan will have calculated the possibilities, and with the coaching experience at hand, they will back themselves to get him up to speed quickly. They'll believe they can prepare him well enough to contribute on a consistent basis.

When the NZRU opened the doors for outside investment, this was one of the opportunities they would have foreseen.

Any contract Marshall secures would have to be topped up significantly by the Blues, probably via a third party.

So there's no reason for the NZRU not to want it to happen, given the importance of the All Blacks and the opportunity for Olympic gold in Rio in 2016.

The payoff could be spectacular if he succeeds.

In my view, given enough time and enough coaching, whether it's in XVs or sevens, he could make it. It's worth the risk.

Marshall is a special talent, and a genuine playmaker.

I would suggest not since Carlos Spencer would we have seen this type of player in rugby.

It's a massive opportunity - a chance to take a calculated risk by bringing arguably league's most popular player into rugby.

It would reconfirm a desire to have the best athletes playing our national game.

New Zealand rugby developed Sonny Bill Williams to be a pretty effective insurance policy for the last World Cup. He was also a major contributor at the Chiefs and became a valuable asset to the game. It's pretty clear he'll be welcomed back to Hamilton with open arms any time he chooses to return.

In a country that demands World Cup success, isn't the Benji experiment worth risking?

- Sunday Star Times

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