Benji 'home' with tail between legs



Benji Marshall says he had a decent crack at rugby union. But did he really?

The transition between rugby league and rugby union is a big enough gap for the very best athletes. It becomes a chasm when you jump straight in the deep end like Marshall did.

A 212-minute bid to prove himself as a rugby player ended when the decorated league playmaker asked for a release from his Blues contract midway through the Super Rugby season.

A return to rugby league looms.

Marshall reckons he is "average" at the 15-man game and will seek the natural fit of a code where he thrived for the Wests Tigers and Kiwis for a decade.

Yet it was the challenge of converting to rugby union that Marshall openly said he found most enticing late last year.

He relished the chance to cross codes into Auckland's rugby fishbowl.

He said it would take time, but he was up for the fight.

He acknowledged that even the most successful converts to rugby in New Zealand - Brad Thorn and Sonny Bill Williams - took more than a season to find their feet.

Go back a few years and there are examples of cross-code playmakers making the grade, eventually.

Mat Rogers, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor and then last year Israel Folau all went from the Kangaroos to the Wallabies, while former All Blacks five-eighth Frano Botica forged a bright league career.

Rogers and Botica both entered their new code in wide positions and got the hang of things for a season or two before being handed the tiller closer to the action.

Former All Blacks five-eighth Andrew Merhtens last week called for patience from the public with Marshall's development, sensing he had the talent to succeed despite a stuttering start.

However, it was Marshall's own patience which ran out after just six appearances, five of them off the bench.

His cause wasn't helped by two key decisions.

He opted not to play a season in the domestic NPC, a proven stepping stone to Super Rugby that would have given him valuable rugby miles under the belt.

And the Blues started him at five-eighth in all three preseason games, an experiment that backfired when they realised he wasn't yet equipped to be the general he was in league.

His bench cameos showed some promise. His pace wasn't electric, but was fast enough and some of his stepping and league-style passes to put teammates into space provided a point of difference.

However, it was apparent that Marshall's athletic best was behind him and his All Blacks aspirations were a mere pipedream.

The prospect of a stint in Auckland club rugby was the final straw for a player still hoping to fan the embers of a decorated career. AAP


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