So the saga about rugby league star Benji Marshall’s switch to rugby union has finally come to a conclusion.
While the Waratahs and Rebels were also trying to secure his services, the Blues were always the favourites as he would not have been able to play for New Zealand if he was plying his trade in Australia.
But will Marshall realise his dream of representing his country and playing at the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and the next Olympic Games? Another talking point is which position will he be playing?
Fly-half, inside centre and full-back have been mentioned as possible positions. I think playing at full-back will suit him perfectly as the space it provides and the creativity which Marshall possesses will make for a perfect fit, although that could be at the expense of Charles Piutau, who was one of the most potent attacking players in Super Rugby in 2013.
I feel, however, that Marshall’s skills would be best suited in the Sevens game and New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens must be licking his lips at the prospect of having him in his squad at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Critics have had plenty to say about the 28-year-old’s abilities as a player in recent weeks.
His detractors have pointed out his poor recent form, tactical kicking game, limitations on defence and history of injuries, especially to his shoulder.
While all of the abovementioned points have their merits, I think Marshall will overcome these weaknesses particularly if one takes into consideration the fact that he will join a side with a star-studded coaching line-up.
Blues boss Sir John Kirwan heads a coaching team which also includes the likes of New Zealand’s World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry and current All Blacks kicking coach Mick Byrne.
With such illustrious names to show him the ropes, I’m backing Marshall to come good and ultimately deliver the goods.
As the latest high-profile league convert, Marshall follows an illustrious line of league players who have made a huge impact in the 15-man code in recent years.
Jason Robinson, Brad Thorn, Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Sonny Bill Williams, Chris Ashton and Israel Folau are amongst those who have made a successful transition to union and, of that group, it took most of those players some time to adapt to their new code.
Marshall will have to learn not to run too laterally, something which most former league players – Folau in particular – tended to do at the start of their union careers.
He is, however, talented enough to shake off that habit. That and knowing the intricacies of the ruck and maul rules will be the 2007 Rugby League World Cup winner’s biggest challenges as he makes his entry into the game. Marshall only played union until he was 15 years old, so that should not be a huge obstacle to overcome, however.
As a playmaker he has few equals in either code. Marshall, at his best, is amongst the best athletes on the planet and providing the Blues forwards can set up a nice platform for him to showcase his skills, the Auckland-based franchise’s supporters will soon be marvelling at the talents of one of the game’s true entertainers.
By David Skippers