Star recruit Benji Marshall has been handed the number 10 jersey for the Blues’ opening pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Masterton on Saturday.
28-year-old Marshall will play the first 40 minutes at first five-eighths, with head coach Sir John Kirwan confirming he had been impressed with the way in which the former Wests Tiger had taken to the playmaker role.
“There were a lot of unknowns when Benji hit town and when I looked at him as a league player I thought he’d be a 10 or 15,” Kirwan said.
“He’s really stepped into that 10 role. He has the personality of a 10 so he takes control, likes to run the game plan and so we’ve really concentrated on putting him there. He hasn’t trained 15 at all so we’re going to put him at 10 at this stage.”
Kirwan said Marshall had adapted to the 15 man code with relative ease but insisted he did not want to put any pressure on him to be a superstar in his first outing.
“I think all our hopes have come true and now he’s just got to play and that won’t be easy. We pursued a player we thought would deliver and he’s done that ten fold and we just need to put him out there,” Kirwan said.
“He’s really serious about this, he’s done everything we’ve asked, he’s done a lot of homework on the game, he’s constantly improving and working on that so the next step is getting him out there. The more we can get him before the season starts the better so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Without any of the All Blacks as well key players Luke Braid, Chris Noakes and Tom Donnelly who are being rested, it will give a number of exciting youngsters a prime opportunity to impress against the Hurricanes.
Young lock Patrick Tuipulotu will get his first chance to pull on a Blues jersey, while the Blues boast a strong loose forward trio of Kane Barrett, Brendon O’Connor and Peter Saili.
Speedsters Tevita Li, Albert Nikoro and Lolagi Visinia form an electric back three who will all be looking to run off Marshall and the solid midfield pairing of Jackson Willison and George Moala.
The bench features a number of ‘apprentices’ – players who have been brought into the Blues environment temporarily from within the franchise region to learn and up-skill.
Kirwan said the result of Saturday’s game was irrelevant and that he was looking for the side to implement the structures and game plans the team had been working on during the pre-season.
“What we’re looking to get out of it is an understanding of how we want to play and a bit more clarity. We’re not expecting it to be there straight away.
“We’ve changed things up a wee bit as everyone does, it’s a pretty fast moving game so we’ve changed quite a bit and it will take some time for the team to get used to it.”
The Blues team to face the Hurricanes at Memorial Park in Masterton on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) is:
1. Sam Prattley
2. James Parsons
3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
4. Liaki Moli
5. Patrick Tuipulotu
6. Kane Barrett
7. Brendon O’Connor
8. Peter Saili
9. Bryn Hall
10. Benji Marshall
11. Tevita Li
12. Jackson Willison
13. George Moala
14. Lolagi Visinia
15. Albert Nikoro