On the eve of Benji Marshall’s first game for the Blues, we caught up with him to find out how he’s handling the nerves, adapting to rugby union and what his expectations are for the game against the Hurricanes.
Benji, the first game is a now looming reality. You’re named at 10 for tomorrow’s game against the Hurricanes, what’s the mindset been like this week?
It’s been pretty good, the good part is the coaching staff have been pretty good at not putting too much pressure on me to be the man of the match or that sort of thing, it’s just about learning the reality of the game, what’s going to happen and getting a feel for playing. It’s been a long time since I played but you can do as much training with what you think you’re going to expect but you don’t really know until you get to play so I’m looking forward to it.
Last week the roles were still a little muddled in your head, are things clearer now?
This week has been a lot more about clarity. Just learning what I need to do in my role as 10 and that’s probably the most important thing, getting through the game plan and implementing the things we practiced.
JK says he’s putting no pressure on you, this is part of the process and you’ve got to go out there and it doesn’t really matter what happens, do you feel that lack of pressure or do you still feel a little bit of pressure?
To be honest I’m not feeling much pressure, it’s about just getting a feel for where I’m at and trying to build off that. If it goes terribly there’s only one way up isn’t there! I suppose the main thing for me is a as long as I can get my hands on the ball and feel like I’m in control with the structures I’ve been given that’s probably the most important thing.
When was your last rugby game?
That would have been 2002 on the Gold Coast for the Coolangatta Barbarians. It was with men, and I definitely remember it. I got in trouble because I was at high school and had to play for the Wests Tigers the next week. It got in the papers that I was out playing rugby and they said I was never allowed to play again.†
What position did you play?
I played 10 that day actually.
So it’s not that foreign then is it?
Well I thought it wouldn’t have been and to be honest when I made the switch I thought it might have been a little bit easier than what it is but it’s been so much different. Everything I’ve learned in league I’ve had to throw out of the window and start again, it’s like going back to school and learning your two times table all over again.
So it’s been hard but I suppose the best thing or one of my best attributes is that I’m a good listener and a good learner and I’m just trying to take in everything I can every day. I’ve learned something new today which I have to put in the game so in my head there’s about a thousand things to remember but I’m pretty keen.
You must have a capacity to cope because JK said he’d been impressed with the way you’d picked it all up.
I don’t think cope is the right the word, it’s more process. I just try and watch as much rugby as I can and try and get an understanding and then it came to touching the ball and trying to apply what I thought I was going to learn from watching but my head was way off where it needed to be. What I’ve learned these last four weeks has been a lot but I just try and go home that night and study what I learned that day. Not only that but just rehearsing in my head what I think I need to do and it’s worked for me so far.
Is there any one particular thing that’s been the hardest thing to learn?
The thing I’ve been the most impressed with is I’ve never seen scrums properly until yesterday and just the amount of effort that goes into that ñ I’ve got a new respect for the boys in the forwards. I’ve been told to stay away from those guys but I never really believed it until watching them scrum yesterday so that’s probably something new but it’s unbelievable how much power they put out and how strong they are.
What’s been the hardest part with kicking in rugby?
Well I only learned yesterday that you weren’t allowed to kick it out on the full if the ruck was outside the 22 so that’s probably something I should have learned before then but I’m learning the rules ay! †It’s been good, every day we’ve learned something different and kicking was a part the other day but I feel like I can implement some of the stuff I’ve learned in league and some of the stuff that I have learned in league is going to hopefully help well in this team as well.
You say you don’t feel too much pressure, will there be nerves when you run out on Saturday?
I’m nervous, there’s no doubt about that. I haven’t been this nervous since my first grade debut. I’m definitely nervous but it’s not like it’s a scared nervous, it’s more like a ënot-sure-how-it’s-going-to-go nervous.’ There’s still some facets of the game I don’t even know where to stand properly but I’m sure I’ll find out pretty quickly after this weekend.
You were a wonderfully instinctive player when you played league, is it going to take time for it to develop that aspect of your game for rugby?
A little bit, I mean there are still going to be opportunities where if I see something I’m going to go for it so the beauty about this team is that we’ve been coached to the point where you stick to the structures unless you see something and then you back yourself and go for it and no-one’s going to look down on you for having a go so if I see something I’ll go but my priority is just trying to make sure I play our game plan and structures and get through that.
You’re looking pretty fit, how’s the training been going?
It’s been tough, just the difference in fitness between rugby and league has been quite different, league is a lot of repetitive speed where with rugby there’s been a lot more aerobic fitness and I’ve probably lost four or five kilos which is pretty big for me but I’m feeling good. I feel fit and pretty sharp on my feet again so it’s good.