Benji Marshall to quit NRL: Oh, Benji, don’t go!

After requesting a release from his contract at Wests Tigers, NRL superstar Benji Marshall appears to have taken a step towards the 15-a-side code.

The news Benji is leaving Leichhardt Oval come as no great surprise. In his time at the club, Marshall has seen the club- one he seems to have a great affinity with- sell talent and drop from premier contenders, and winners, to wooden spoon contenders. One can only imagine the frustration a talented individual feels when the house is put up for auction while he’s still sat on the sofa.

The issue for RL is the ease with which the decision to switch codes has been made for him. Let’s be clear- whatever the thoughts on the New Zealand international’s recent form- Benji Marshall is a unique talent and a superstar. I’ve got friends, and former colleagues, who watch Rugby Union and wouldn’t know Jonathan Thurston or Cooper Cronk if they tripped over them, but they know Benji. In terms of profile this is a huge loss for the game both locally and internationally.

So where does the blame lie? It’s difficult to blame a player who’s had the rug pulled out from under him. He appeared to agree a deal with the former CEO, and then was given gardening leave for a week by his coach after losing the international captaincy. Swimming against the tide doesn’t seem to cut it!

Unfortunately, in the heady world of RL, it’s a case of same old, same old. Poor player management from club level right through to the NZRL and NRL have caused this move. As perennial Aussie mouth/blogger, LeagueFreak, never tires of telling us. The NRL can buy anyone now they have this TV deal, and they’ll cream off the best talent from Super League because they can. Well it appears they can’t keep hold of their own stars regardless of the financial state of the game in the Antipodes.Between those three levels of the game a dialogue could’ve been enacted to make the player feel wanted, and to find him a comfortable home inside of RL.

This doesn’t appear to be about money, Marshall would’ve got a increased deal at Wests which would’ve met his financial needs; Marshall could’ve also left the club in 2008/2009 for an increased deal. For me, this is a lack of love for the player from the administrators and coaches around him. It appears he didn’t feel wanted, and his commitment has been taken for granted over a sustained period at both club and international level. Couple that with feeling like the house has been sold from around his feet at Wests then it adds up to disillusionment and a will to head home to New Zealand and leave the game of RL for pastures new.

If a competition awash with money- as the NRL palpably is- cannot keep retain a top star as he moves to a competition which haemorrhages money back in New Zealand, what is the point of that healthy balance? It just goes to show it only takes you so far, and no amount of money will make up for poor player management.

In the end it is the fans that miss out- as the spectacle diminishes- when this breakdown in communication occurs. All I can add on behalf of them is, Benji, don’t go!

Update: Auckland Blues confirm interest in Marshall switching codes to play Super Rugby, but say he would not receive the salary he was currently on at Wests and certainly not the $2.1 million dollars Wests were said to have tabled in the new deal.

18/07/2013: Message from Benji. 

05/08/2013: Marshall confirms contract with Auckland Blues.

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