Expect Benji Marshall to be at the Blues for the next two years.
After a third face-to-face meeting with the Auckland-based rugby union franchise yesterday, all parties were positive an agreement would be reached early next week. Though nothing is official and there are no guarantees, senior Blues officials labelled it a "done deal".
Marshall met with Blues coach Sir John Kirwan, investor Murray Bolton and outgoing chief executive Andy Dalton. The 28-year-old Wests Tigers star was impressed by Kirwan's final pitch and there appears to be a genuine empathy developing been the pair.
"There's still a little bit of water to go under the bridge but we like each other and think it's going to work," Kirwan said.
"His motivations are right. He's coming for the right reasons. It was important to come over and see what we did. He came over with his wife Zoe. They had a good look around at property and where they might like to live. We spoke about rugby again."
While Marshall wasn't present for financial negotiations, Fairfax Media understands his agent, Martin Tauber, received a verbal two-year offer worth close to $500,000 per-year.
That would require a third party deal in excess of $260,000 and Marshall would have to take a $365,000 pay cut with no initial involvement from the New Zealand Rugby Union.
All signs are Marshall's is keen on the Blues, over the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels, with the most profound statement came from Tauber.
"A great headline would be he's coming home," Tauber said. "They [Blues] are without doubt first cab of the rank. Let me tell you, when Benji runs out on Eden Park for the Auckland Blues, if that's the way it's to be, it will be packed.
"They are talking about a two-year deal and we are comfortable about that. It's not about the money. Whether it's $500,000 or $600,000 he will make the decision for his football career. Ultimately it's about the opportunity. He wants to play 15s for the All Blacks. Whether the sevens comes into the mix is yet to be determined. It's a whole new desire and motivation for him.
"The whole presentation was extremely professional. It was nothing but to be admired. Sir John Kirwan is a very impressive man. What he is trying to do with that club in terms of values and expectations ... it's a little bit like Sir Alex Ferguson 25 years ago."
A major barrier to Marshall's move to Auckland was thought to be his wife, Zoe, their preference to live in Sydney and her work as a television presenter/journalist.
"That's why we brought his wife this time, so she could look around," Tauber said. "She loved it. She's been to Parnell, Mission Bay. We are trying to make her comfortable about lifestyle, where she could live, what she could do. There are huge opportunities for her in Auckland which she can manage and create work."
The Blues are understood to have knocked back a possible stint in Japanese rugby at the end of 2014. And, despite Marshall saying this week he wanted to sign off his league career by playing in this year's World Cup, Tauber suggested that may be a risk not worth taking.
"I doubt it," Tauber said of Marshall playing in the league World Cup. "The Blues preseason starts late-November. The World Cup is October/November with the final coming into the early part of December. The risk of injury when he's already committed to a rugby union club, they'd have to indemnify him - I just think it's all too hard."
Kirwan indicated he was more open to the idea but his preference is for Marshall to have a break before next year's Super Rugby season.
The former All Blacks wing was reluctant to discuss what position Marshall might play but it is understood he could feature at fullback, second five-eighth or first-five.
"If next week goes well and they decide to sign with us then we'll need to put the Blues first but also take into consideration what Benji wants to do. I'm good mates with [Kiwis coach] Stephen Kearney so I'm sure something can be worked out. My biggest concern for him would be resting up to start what would be a huge preseason and a total life change for him."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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