Speculation is rife in League circles that Benji Marshall will announce his defection to Rugby Union within 2 weeks – the prominent NRL and Kiwi reportedly ready to take on new challenges in his young career.
It seems according to media reports that Marshall is in talks with European Union outfits, paving the way for defection prior to 2010.
While UK Super League clubs have also been keen to snare the talented half, it seems Marshall is willing to change his trade and attempt to make a name for himself in the 15 a side game
Its believed Marshall has seen the success of Craig Gower and Mark Gasnier in recent times, a big plus being the lower profile for the well known local star.
While fighting injuries in recent times, Marshall has achieved most on offer in League – the ultimate with a 2005 premiership and more recently World Cup honours with New Zealand.
Now it seems Union and the UK is his next challenge.
Only 3 weeks ago, Marshall was holding aloft the League World Cup Trophy and flying in the face of his critics who said he was soft and a target of the Kangaroo attackers.
Marshall is no stranger to other forms of the game, recently representing Australia in touch footy at the 2003 world cup in Japan, beating New Zealand in the final.
Benji was heavily involved in touch again this weekend at the NSW State Cup in Port Macquarie, where several thousand players come together for the popular code.
Marshall will leave Australia later this week for a break in Whistler, Canada. Benji will link up with the Tigers in the new year to begin pre-season training.
The loss of Marshall would be a huge blow to the Tigers, who are also fighting to retain hooker Robbie Farah beyond next year. Farah and Marshall among few remaining 2005 combatants. The Tigers would be virtually unrecognizable in 2010 should the big guns walk away.
Coach Tim Sheens, also off contract at the end of 2009, would probably reconsider things from 2010 if a complete rebuild of the roster was required. Should the key players move on, it would make sense to have a new coach with fresh ideas get a shot at the next phase of the young clubs future.
Sheens is expected to toy with Marshall at half-back in 2009. A move to give the Kiwi pivot more options and a reduced workload.
“It’s no secret I’ve talked about experimenting with him at seven,” Sheens said. “I’m not saying that’s where he’s going to play, I’m just saying I’ve got an inkling to experiment with him there.
“I’m hoping next year will be an improvement.
“I’m hoping Benji will develop his game in the area of maturity and his skill around the halves to direct a game.
“I still think there’s a lot of work for him to do, but he’s come a long way in the last 12 months.
“I think it’s a lot brighter, the prospect of his next season.”
It will be a long 2 weeks for not only Marshall but Tigers fans now, as they await the outcome of his negotiations and eventual decision – for his choice will no doubt effect the decision of Farah and the overall future of the club.