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May 4, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Sports |
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Was Benji Always Doomed to Fail?

Let me start with this: Benji Marshall is a freakishly good athlete. Anyone who disputes that is clearly an idiot.

Now here’s the but… Perhaps choosing to switch codes to rugby union was not his finest hour. Although this somewhat familiar transition between the two codes has been done before, and done successfully, it was always going to be a different story for Benji.

While he was the playmaker at the Wests Tigers, owning the number-6 jersey, it was always unclear what his position would be at the Blues – first five or fullback. Being a playmaker in league is very different to being a playmaker in union, and that’s where I believe he ran into a bit of trouble.

As a first five in union, you always have to be thinking one play ahead, and thinking about how your team is going to be directed around the paddock. You are the brains of the backline. (Funnily enough, I still haven’t been given the nod to fill that role.)

This is something that is very different to rugby league, as while you are still in many ways the brains of your backline, you aren’t under as much pressure. In some ways, it can be more of a catch-and-pass game, at least until the final tackle.

So throwing Benji straight into the number-10 jersey of a Super Rugby team was always going to be a massive task for him. If it was going to work, he needed to have played at club or ITM Cup level before he made the step up to Super Rugby.

And when this kind of code switch has worked, the players haven’t been in the major playmaking roles.

Take Sonny Bill Williams, for example. Love him or hate him, the guy could play. But he was only at his best after four years in the game, and his role was very similar to his role in league. Not so much of an adjustment period needed – and he started at club level, then ITM Cup, then Super Rugby.

Israel Folau, also a superstar. But he went from being a league winger to a union fullback. Again, not a lot to adjust to. And what about big Brad Thorn? In the engine room of both codes, so could therefore do it successfully for both.

I truly believe that if Benji had been prepared right, and hadn’t spent his time just warming the bench for the Blues, then he could’ve been a real superstar.

That could have been starting at club level and working his way up with enough game time. Or coming south to the Crusaders to play under a different organisation – we’ve been known to produce some pretty outstanding players (Dan, Mehrtens, Justin, Richie, Reado, Sonny Bill, Crotty – I do have a word limit here).

At the end of the day, it’s a real shame this experiment hasn’t worked out, because it could’ve been something truly awesome. But all the best for the return to the NRL. Please don’t let it be at the Dragons/Eels/Bulldogs.

Top 5 Domestic-Cricket Battlers:
5. Brent Arnel – I know the guy’s played for the Black Caps, but his unorthodox bowling action delivering balls in the mid-120 range are no real threat.

4. Mark Craig – Admittedly, he has just made the Black Caps squad, but I hardly expect it’s based on his domestic figures. His loopy off-spinners are a treat for big-hitting batters. Or those who are shy of runs.

3. Jono Hickey – Top-order batsman who seldom gave bowlers any headaches. Currently working as a retail assistant, where I expect he shall remain for a while.

2. Bradley Scott – The left-arm fast-medium pace bowler from Northern Districts rarely threatened to be much more than a domestic battler. His 6–48 on debut is basically his only highlight. He managed to get into the New Zealand A side, and somehow also the Black Caps World T20 squad in 2007.

1. Peter Ingram – Peter “No Foot Movement” Ingram brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘stand and deliver’. Often dubbed the easy wicket, Ingram was able to amass 61 runs in two tests before being dropped, an average of 15.25, which cements his place as one of New Zealand’s battlers over the years.


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  1. Alex Tai-Weimar says:

    Great article mate.
    But no 10 for you?! Big ask lol

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