Foe Folau bends Benji's ear with friendly advice

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2014

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There was no scope for good-natured sledging when Benji Marshall and Israel Folau were named in opposing teams for the first time since 2009 - but the league converts did have plenty to discuss after the NSW Waratahs beat the Blues in Friday night's Super Rugby trial in Sydney.

A much-anticipated showdown between the two high-profile footballers never eventuated at Allianz Stadium because Marshall only played the first half of the Waratahs' 33-12 victory and Folau was always slated to play the second spell at fullback.

After enduring a difficult 40 minutes, Marshall then looked on as his former rival at test and NRL level botched a speculative kick in the lead-up to the Blues' final try before making amends with a reverse flick pass that initiated the game-sealing seven-pointer - a trademark touch from the former Kiwis captain's league playbook.

Marshall was among the last Blues to complete their post-match warm-downs and as he made his way towards the players' tunnel a smiling Folau approached. They embraced, and although Folau wasn't a shoulder to cry on for Marshall he did have encouraging words as the 28-year-old continues a challenging transition.

The pair spoke for about five minutes and although Marshall could not relay the conversation verbatim, he did reveal that Folau felt fortunate to start his rugby career from the relative security of fullback.

Marshall was originally expected to be introduced as a fullback but the Blues coaching staff instead opted to entrust him with the playmaking role - a tough assignment considering Friday's lineup was missing the guidance of Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu.

Folau and his code-jumping Wallabies predecessors Lote Tuqiri, Wendall Sailor and Mat Rogers began their initiation in the back three, though only Rogers was ever considered as a potential first-five.

"He had some good advice. He thinks I should play fullback," Marshall, who is committed to persevering at pivot, said.

Asked if he'd feel more comfortable at the back, Marshall replied: "Not really. I trust the coaches and whatever they say. I want a challenge at 10, I'm enjoying the challenge and I like directing the team around.

"It's been a rapid development considering I was given no chance."

Marshall's first match in Sydney since his 200-game milestone for the Wests Tigers last August was also a frustrating experience as a strong Waratahs line-up had the Blues struggling for parity up to halftime.

Encouragingly he did not shirk the defensive workload, although his attacking game is still in the embryonic stage - a fact Folau acknowledged.

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"Playing at 10 is a pretty hard position to slot into. Give him time and hopefully he'll develop," said Folau, who last faced Marshall when the Brisbane Broncos visited Campbelltown.

Wallabies utility Kurtley Beale was also supportive of Marshall after he marked his return from the Melbourne Rebels with a classy all-round performance at fullback, No 10 and second-five.

"I thought he went well. We had a lot of the possession in the first half and we had them on the line there for a bit but when they got some good go forward he really directed the team around well.

"It's a long season ahead for every player out there in Super Rugby so there's always room for improvement."

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, who was interested in signing Marshall before he pursued an All Blacks dream with the Blues, expected him to develop as the season unfolded.

"I'm sure he'll adjust more and more to the flow of the game and he'll make a presence during the year for sure," he said.

Before reuniting with friends and family members, Marshall put a brave face on his predicament as he looked forward to more game time in the Blues' final trial against the Chiefs in Rotorua on Friday.

"From this week to last week I think my direction was a bit better.

"I didn't feel as lost."

- Sunday News

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