'I'm nervous', declares Benji ahead of debut
Benji Marshall doesn't mind admitting he's feeling the nerves ahead of his first game of rugby union since he was a 17-year-old schoolboy living on the Gold Coast all the way back in 2002.
The 28-year-old code-jumping former Wests Tigers NRL star and Kiwis skipper will start at first five-eighths for the Blues in their pre-season opener against the Hurricanes in Masterton tomorrow.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has dipped heavily into his wider training group and contingent of apprentices to produce a lineup shorn of all of his sizeable contingent of All Blacks, as well as the recuperating Piri Weepu and other experienced figures such as Luke Braid, Tom Donnelly and Chris Noakes.
But the appearance of Marshall at No 10 will still provide a heap of interest as he offers the first indication of whether his late-career switch to the XV-man code can be a success.
"I'm nervous, there's no doubt about that," Marshall said yesterday. "I haven't been this nervous since my first grade [league] debut. But it's not like it's a scared nervous, it's more like a 'not-sure-how-it's-going-to-go' nervous.
"There are still some facets of the game where I don't even know where to stand properly, but I'm sure I'll find out after this weekend."
Marshall yesterday recalled his last outing in rugby union, which was also in the No 10 position where he's being given first crack by the Blues.
"It would have been 2002 on the Gold Coast for the Coolangatta Barbarians. It was with men, and I definitely remember it. I got in trouble because I was at high school and had to play for the Wests Tigers the next week. It got in the papers that I was out playing rugby and they said I was never allowed to play again."
Despite going through a massive learning curve over the last three weeks or so, Marshall feels like he's ready to take the most decisive step of his introduction to his new code.
"It's pretty much just about learning the reality of the game and what's going to happen, and getting a feel for playing.
"This week has probably been a lot more about clarity, just learning what I need to do in my role at 10, and the most important thing is getting through the game-plan and implementing the things we practised."
In terms of any pressure he may or may not be under - his coach insists there's none on him from within the franchise - Marshall says he's not feeling anything too overwhelming.
"If it goes terrible there's only one way to go and that's up," he said, with a smile. "The main thing is that I get my hands on the ball and feel like I'm in control within the structures I've been given."
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan certainly has his new recruit's back, making it clear yesterday that he had every confidence in him as a No 10.
"He has the personality of a 10, he takes control, likes to run the game-plan, and we've really concentrated on putting him there," Kirwan said. "I think all our hopes have come true. We pursued a player who we thought would deliver and he's done than tenfold. Now he just has to play."
Blues: Albert Nikoa, Lolagi Visinia, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Benji Marshall, Bryn Hall; Peter Saili, Brendon O'Connor, Kane Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liaki Moli, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, William Lloyd, Tom Murday, Jordan Manihera, Chris Vui, Jamison Gibson-Park, Sonatane Takulua, Baden Kerr, Matt McGahan, Marty Swart.