OPINION: Benji Marshall may have been swayed into a false sense of hope about his rugby union prospects from seeing the likes of Israel Folau making a successful switch.
During the week of what was supposed to be the biggest game of the year for rugby league - the State of Origin decider - all of the chat has been about rugby's newest recruit. There has been lots of advice about where he would be best suited to play. I have heard from five-eighth to fullback and perhaps even halfback.
If the desire is to play in a World Cup, he has a few questions to ask. How do you get there and where do you play? With his history of captaining the New Zealand league team I doubt that he would want to play for the Wallabies, albeit he would qualify through residency. So that rules out a move to one of the Australian franchises. I just don't know if the ARU would stump up the cash to get a high-profile player like Marshall and cop the wrath of not supporting the local players first. There needs to be a smart decision made by the powerbrokers. So in effect the path to the World Cup would be to play for the Auckland Blues, who have expressed interest.
A sense of realism may come as well if he does elect to play in New Zealand. The talent from over the Tasman seems to be endless. Just when you think you may have a lull, some young whiz kid comes through and stakes his claim. This is the difficulty Marshall will come up against. He is not the youngest of the group nor the fastest anymore and we can all attest to the fact that defences have muscled up in the past decade.
You then have to target a position. The No.10 or No.15 jerseys would be the options but he's going to have to get past the likes of Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Israel Dagg ... the list goes on.
His passing would suit the five-eighth role as he is more than capable of putting runners into holes, yet this is only half of the job description. Game management comes into it. We have seen recently how a limited game management strategy from a No.10 has an adverse effect on the team.
If he plays at the back then his running skills and counter-attack would be called upon. He still has the fast feet but does he have the ''get out of jail'' speed anymore? You know, the one when you just leave a defender for dead to save yourself.
At training, Marshall will do a lot of the routines he's done for many years during his league career - lifting weights, running, ball work - but then he'll have to deal with the technical part of the game. The understanding of how to approach a ruck or maul and make the correct decision. Unfortunately for him, that comes by repetition at training. So contact sessions will be the priority so he is not out of his depth in that area.
In effect he will be serving an accelerated apprenticeship. I just wonder if the mountain will be too high to climb. I imagine him to be a competitive person and the desire to succeed to be so high, but would what he has done in his league days suffice? If he does play in New Zealand, perhaps a stint in Japanese rugby would be the optimal pathway. The rugby is a good standard and they have tolerated others playing as an introduction to the game.
I can understand the comment made by his manager that he needs to reclaim his mojo. Being at the one club for such a long period of time can make the reality of playing a professional sport quite tedious. Personally, my change in where I played my rugby gave me a new understanding of why I enjoyed the game so much. The difference being, I was playing the same code.
Marshall, at 28, is embarking on something that looks very similar but is poles apart and that time frame may make things just that little bit harder.
I hope Marshall doesn't just see rugby as an easy out. He will have to work hard at convincing himself and the public that he has made the right decision. I hope the change will allow him to reclaim his mojo and not be a waste of time trying to find something that was probably not lost, just buried way down inside.
Good luck Benji and I hope you enjoy our great game.
Matt Burke is a former Wallaby international.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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