Big ask for Benji Marshall in pre-season match

HIT OUT: Benji Marshall is playing at first five for the Blues in their pre-season match against the Hurricanes.
HIT OUT: Benji Marshall is playing at first five for the Blues in their pre-season match against the Hurricanes.

Clutter will be Benji Marshall's worst enemy in Masterton today and kicking perhaps his biggest challenge.

Glittering rugby league career or not, the Blues first five-eighth faces a tough task in playing No.10 against the Hurricanes.

Being the centre of attention of a Super Rugby pre-season match won't bother a player who has 201 NRL matches, 25 tests for the Kiwis and a Rugby League World Cup win under his belt.

Nor will the physical demands of a different code be any tougher than the one he's used to.

Processing the myriad of information flying at him once the opening whistle blows will be his biggest task.

The microscope on Marshall will centre on whether he can make the right calls in the right part of the field and relay them to his team-mates.

He will not have the luxury of three hit-ups to make up his mind in attack, though the Blues may try to manufacture that time from phase play.

The use of forward runners and alternative first receivers, a growing trend in rugby, will help Marshall.

Second five-eighth Jackson Willison will no doubt be under instruction to provide a voice and second pair of eyes for his rookie No.10. He may also provide a vital boot option. Marshall's kicking skills, particularly out of defence, are unclear.

Former Melbourne Storm pivot Tasesa Lavea made a bright return to rugby union back in 2003.

His ability to play at the line in attack and pass players into holes was immediately effective for Auckland, but his kicking game was often lacking.

Marshall is likely to have similar wobbles. If he can play his natural game Auckland's backline could be unleashed, but hurried or ill-advised kicks could blow up in his face.

The home team haven't focused on the star turn in the buildup to this match, but Hurricanes opposite Marty Banks acknowledged his presence would add to the occasion.

''It's something I never thought I'd do a few years ago to play this level and to come [up] against someone of that class... he's been the best in his code, so it's something I can tell the kids in a few years.''

Primarily signed as a fullback, Banks finds himself at No.10 due to James Marshall's recovery from hip surgery and All Black Beauden Barrett's belated return.

With both sides missing their All Blacks, not a lot will be learned about their title aspirations.

However, the respective coaching staffs will learn plenty about fringe players they may have to call on at crucial times later in the season.

Banks is among a myriad from both sides playing his first Super Rugby match of any description.

Missing from the Hurricanes side will be loose forward Faifili Levave who has shin splints.


Hurricanes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Newton Tudreu, Tim Bateman, Cardiff Vaega, Matt Proctor, Marty Banks, Chris Smylie, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Jack Lam, James Broadhurst, Mark Abbott, Brendon Edmonds, Joe Royal, Chris Eves. Reserves: Adrian Barone, John Schwalger, Mark Reddish, Blade Thompson, Adam Hill, Callum Gibbins, Billy Guyton, Beaudein Waaka, Hadleigh Parkes, Andre Taylor.

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.

Kick-off: 3pm (gates open at 12.30pm)