Marshall secures switch to union
Benji Marshall has signed a two-year contract with Super Rugby's Auckland Blues.
WELLINGTON - Former New Zealand rugby league captain Benji Marshall completed his switch to rugby union by signing a two-year contract with Super Rugby's Auckland Blues on Saturday as he begins his quest of an All Blacks jersey and an Olympic gold medal in sevens.
The 28-year-old Marshall will leave Sydney's West Tigers at the end of the National Rugby League club's season on Sept. 7 and return to his homeland to begin preparations for the 2014 Super Rugby season under John Kirwan at the Blues.
"I'm really excited. It has been bit of a process because it's obviously a big decision for Benji but he's really excited about the challenge and were thrilled to have someone with his professionalism and ability in the organisation," Kirwan said.
"I think it's going to be a great journey for us all."
Marshall, who won the rugby league World Cup in 2008, has made no secret of his wish to become a dual international and to also push for a place in the All Blacks sevens squad for the 2016 Rio Games when the sport makes its Olympic return.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and sevens coach Gordon Tietjens had previously welcomed news that Marshall was considering the switch to union with both stating they believed he could succeed in either forms of the sport.
"I'm happy to hear that that's his desire, he's a world class rugby league player and a world class athlete," Hansen told reporters in a teleconference last Sunday.
"By all accounts ... he seems to be a very good character. So to have someone like that who wants to be an All Black is great.
"But to comment further without seeing him play the game of rugby, I can't, because I don't have any information to back it up.
"If he can transfer his skill set into rugby, he's got a good chance of being a very good rugby player."
Marshall debuted in the NRL more than a decade ago for the West Tigers as an 18-year-old, and made a name for himself through his agility and ball playing skills.
During his time in rugby league he captained his club and country, securing an NRL premiership for the Tigers in 2005 and an upset victory over Australia to claim the 2008 Rugby League World Cup for New Zealand.
His ability to manufacture attacking opportunities early in his career made him a fan favourite, and produced a stunning highlight reel including his iconic length of the field run and flick pass to Pat Richards from the Tigers' Grand Final win.
During the 2013 season, however, he appeared to have lost some of his attacking flair while playing in a team ravaged by injury, and endured constant speculation he was unhappy at the club.
This came to a head in July, when he requested a release to pursue other opportunities.
Support amongst rugby fans and pundits about Marshall's possible switch has waxed and waned in New Zealand's largest city, with influential New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue writing this week that Marshall was a player "on the slide".
"At his best, he was up there with the finest entertainer-footballers in any code - Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mark Ella, Carlos Spencer, Christian Cullen et al. Marshall was the most magical of them all in the oval ball codes," Rattue wrote.
"Marshall was a footballing genius, but not any more. He's been a player on the slide throughout the NRL season.
"Both rugby and league have become difficult to play using the sideways dance, which is Marshall's speciality."