It only took a few months of Rugby Union for Benji Marshall to decide to return to Rugby League. Marshall was signed on a fairly decent contract to sign with the Auckland Blues, so to walk out on that deal says a lot about how miserable he has been in Rugby Union.
While many will suggest that Marshall was a failed Rugby Union player, I tend to think he was never given a chance to succeed.
Every other Rugby League player that switched to Rugby Union was thrown in the deep end. They were given a heap of game time, they started games at the highest level straight away. They were allowed to learn the game on the run and survive on their natural instincts during that learning process.
For Marshall, the Auckland Blues kept trying to bring him along slowly. They brought him off the bench for short stints. This is a player that needed to learn Rugby Union as quickly as possible, not in 10 minute stints at the end of games.
So now he is on his way back to Rugby League. So, what does Marshall need to do to make this a successful return?
First of all, he needs to accept that he will be on a minimal contract. He needs to be an attractive option for teams to sign. For the right price a lot of clubs will want him. For the wrong price, no one will even think of signing him.
Marshall will also need to accept that he needs to work his way back into first grade. I believe he can do that, but he needs to accept that his return to Rugby League will be in reserve grade.
The two biggest things Benji Marshall needs to change are very simple.
First of all, his fitness is a problem. He is carrying too much weight. He needs to drop a few kilo’s and prove he is ready to put in the extra effort. He is almost 30 years old now. The natrual athletic ability he once possessed is still there, but he has to work harder now to keep it.
I think he needs to change the way he plays the game on his return to Rugby League. He has so much experience, he has won a the Wests Tigers to an NRL Grand Final and the New Zealand Kiwi’s to the 2010 Four Nations Championship as well as the 2008 Rugby League World Cup victory none of us will ever forget.
I would get him talking to the likes of Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and in particular Darren Lockyer. Ask them how they changed their style of play as their athletic ability changed and they had to rely more and more on their experience and skill.
Marshall should aim to come back as a facilitator, not a ball running playmaker as he once was. His game can be very basic on his return, just guide teams around the field and show he still has a good kicking game and teams will look to sign him beyond 2014.
If Marshall can show he has the ability to use a career worth of experience to just guide a team around the park, he can be a real asset for someone.
I think Benji Marshall would be more of a halfback on his return than a five-eighth. The days of him using his footwork out wider are over. He needs to work teams over in the middle of the field. If he runs, attack the line directly. Most of all, work with his forwards and just get the players around him where they need to be.
If Benji Marshall can make his way back into the NRL and just be half the player he once was, play very basic football, and use his experience…he could play for another five years with relative ease.
If he can do all of the above will be interesting to watch. Right now most team have said they have no interest in signing Marshall.
In my opinion the best place for him career wise would be the Melbourne Storm. They Storm have said they would be interest in signing him as long as he came to them very cheaply. At the Storm Marshall could step into the side with little to no pressure. He could do a very basic job in a very good side and he would be given the coaching I think he needs and be in the best team environment in the NRL.
Marshall is apparently looking to move back to Sydney at this stage but I don’t think any Sydney based NRL club would be willing to take him on board. If he wants to come back, he should beg the Storm to take him on. Even if it is just until the end of the season.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com