Benji Marshall will make a great 10, says Kirwan

MICHAEL CHAMMAS
Last updated 09:00 11/11/2013
Benji Marshall
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Benji Marshall is likely to begin life at the Auckland Blues in the No. 15 jumper.

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Blues coach Sir John Kirwan believes Benji Marshall possesses the qualities to be the club's first-choice five-eighth, but is leaning towards starting the league convert at fullback as he settles into unfamiliar surroundings.

The Wests Tigers No 6 jersey will long be remembered as Marshall's, having made it his own for the best part of a decade.

However, where he fits best in the 15-man game remains a mystery, to both Kirwan and Marshall.

But a fortnight out from the start of the Blues pre-season, Kirwan has revealed he hopes to develop Marshall into a No.10, but believes the No 15 jersey will provide him with the best foundation from which to launch his rugby union career.

"I think 10 will be his best position," Kirwan said.

"But I don't really want to put any pressure on that. It's dependent on how we want to play. If we play him at 15, play to the middle of the field and open up both sides of the field, then he can come up and play a second pivot game. We're just going to wait and see. We're thinking 15 to start with, then maybe looking at 10.

"We might be pleasantly surprised and he can turn out to be a great inside-centre in rugby. We just don't know yet. If we start predicting that sort of stuff you put yourself in a bit of a cage.

"I think Benji feels he can be a 10, but he's not quite sure either. So starting him at 15 will give him an opportunity to settle into the sport."

Despite enduring a season from hell in his final year at the Tigers, Marshall appears to have few scars.

But Kirwan, who made the transition from rugby union to rugby league in the final years of his playing career, sympathised with Marshall, having endured similar experiences when he joined the Warriors in 1995 after collecting 63 caps for the All Blacks.

"I've been where he was at, and I understood fully where he was coming from," Kirwan said.

"A change is as good as a holiday. Judging him on his last year would be wrong. He's restarting and has got this new challenge, so it's an exciting time for him. He's come here for the right reasons. He has high aspirations. He wants to become an All Black and play at the highest level. That's the reason why we've picked him, because he wants to be great at this game.

"He's like a kid in a toy shop at the moment. He's really excited about his new challenge. He's a little bit apprehensive, but he's excited about this new challenge. He's in really great shape mentally, given what he went through."

Former New Zealand rugby league captain Marshall has already made the most of his brief time in Auckland, featuring in television advertisements and promotional campaigns as he looks to re-create the profile he enjoyed in Sydney.

However, Kirwan insists signing Marshall is not a publicity stunt, and he is adamant the 28-year-old can be a success in rugby union.

"He's a bit of a superstar over here, but that's not why we signed him," Kirwan said.

"I've followed his career for some time and before we signed him I had a pretty good look at him. Our reason for signing him was because we really believe he can make a difference to our organisation on the field - the off-field stuff will take care of itself.

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"Everyone has been really excited to have him here. He'll bring a real professional spirit to the place, teaching some of our young guys about preparation; we're hoping he'll lead by example.

"For now, I've left him alone because I want him to have a good break. He's been playing professional sport for a long time so I actually wanted him to get away from the game completely.

"I've had two meetings with him. He's taken a computer away with him and he's got our games, so we'll talk more specifics in the next few days."

Many rugby league players have defected to rugby union to become dual internationals.

While Kirwan was reluctant to put such pressure on Marshall before he's even played a game, Kirwan believes the former Tigers No 6 has the qualities to be an All Blacks.

"I think there are some brilliant crossover athletes, like Sonny Bill [Williams] and Israel [Folau]. I think Benji is one of those," Kirwan said.

"Someone that can cover both 15 and 10 with his ability is in with a big chance to play for the All Blacks. But it's a bit premature to be placing those expectations on him so soon."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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