It’s too early to anoint Benji Marshall’s switch of codes a runaway success, but it will clearly not be an abject failure.
Though the jury remains out on whether Marshall will transfer his league brilliance to Super Rugby this season, that scenario is now at least plausible after his first half of rugby in more than a decade.
More than anything the 28-year-old former Wests Tigers conductor exuded confidence from the time he ran on to Memorial Park to the moment he signed the last of hundreds of autographs after full-time.
He didn’t blink when told he was taking the restarts moments before kick off. He didn’t flinch when Hurricanes openside Ardie Savea flattened him early or drop his lip when Cardiff Vaega blew past his inside shoulder. Marshall took it all in, adjusted, improved, and actually looked the part by the time he took a seat at half-time. In a nutshell, the Blues pivot was having fun.
“It was a bit of a blur, to be honest,” he said after the match. “The first 20 minutes I sort of struggled to get a feel for it, but after we had that quarter-time break I sort of realised what it was going to take to direct the team around. I did everything I wanted to achieve. I didn’t set the game on fire, but in terms of getting control and feel for playing 10 I got a lot out of it.”
He stood a tad deep at times, looked a little awkward in contact, but had a crack early, made a nice half break running behind Jackson Willison and passed with growing confidence once the Blues got some possession.
“When you don’t have the ball it’s a pretty tough sport,” he said. “I just did as much as I could in that second quarter to make sure we held on to the ball and possession, and once we did that it felt great. Look, from a personal point of view I’m happy with what I got out of it. It wasn’t about winning the game, it wasn’t about being the best player on the field. It was just about getting through what we’ve practised and getting a feel for the game.”
For the record, the Hurricanes won the match 38-35, outscoring the Blues six tries to five in an entertaining pre-season hit out. But there was little doubt who the 6000-strong crowd had come to see – the ground announcer gave him top billing as the side’s ran on. Marshall lapped it all up.
“I had Ardie Savea coming from the inside a lot of times and got a good feel for what is going to be coming at me. I enjoyed every part of it and I’m looking forward to the next game,” he said before laughing at his attempt at cleaning out a ruck.
“I hit a couple, but I don’t think I was hitting anybody. It’s just different. Until you get a feel for the game you don’t understand. I still don’t really know the rules around the ruck, so I’m guessing there, to be honest. It’s a learning curve and hopefully I can get better each game.
“There was a lot of sliding defence. The systems are just different to league and it’s something I’m slowly getting used to. I’ve got a lot to learn. I suppose this is the first step in a massive line of steps to get in the right place. That’s what’s it’s about. It’s my first game in over 10 years.”
And then Marshall started actually sounding like a rugby player.
“The first 20 was a bit rusty,” he said. ”We had about six turnovers and they scored three times off those so I learned a big lesson after the first 20, which was to keep us a bit more direct and control the ball and make sure we had enough people in rucks to keep the ball.”
All of which was music to the ears of coach John Kirwan who knocked on the head any notion Marshall would switch positions and hinted he’d get another extended run against the Waratahs in Sydney this weekend.
“I thought he was great,” Kirwan said. ”The whole team played well but he blended in incredibly well and ran the team. For his first hit out he can be proud. He’s worked hard. I spoke to him quickly at half-time and he said ‘woah, that was a bit different’.
“That’s his position. He showed enough today to have another crack … I was hoping this would happen and it’s happening. He’s worked incredibly hard, but it was a good start for him. There were little bits to work on but for his first game in 16 years or whatever, it was a good start.”
With Baden Kerr getting a knock Marshall might have to share time with Chris Noakes this week, but the signs are positive.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.