By Alan Dymock
NEWS IS bubbling up from Down Under that NRL heavyweight Benji Marshall is on the verge of switching codes.
The Kiwi playmaker has been heavily linked with a move to the Aukland Blues after this season with the Wests Tigers – with whom he has featured in the NRL for 10 years and trained with for a few years before that – and is fancied to push for a spot with the All Blacks for England’s Rugby World Cup 2015.
His smoother-than-silk passing has lit up league for some time now and he has more tricks than a Harry Houdini-Sonny Bill Williams double act, but he is not the only convert who could feature in the biggest showcase in rugby.
The Bath centre toured with England in Argentina this summer and after it was all done head coach Stuart Lancaster found himself waxing all sorts of lyrics about how exciting the prospect was. Fancied as an explosive and unpredictable weapon to be used alongside Christian Wade and Marland Yarde, Eastmond has light feet and an engine and offers something entirely different from any centre England have employed in the last four years.
A nailed on certainty to start for Australia, Folau is scary. He can jump, he can catch, he can hitch a ride on other winger’s shoulders and he knows how to ghost around defenders before they’ve realized he was available to be tackled.
He has shocked union and will be a real asset for the competition as a whole – should the marketers grasp this in time. Marshall’s people realize this too. While breaking the news that his client would be walking out on NRL, Marshall’s manager Martin Tauber said of Marshall: “He’s already had a conversation with Izzy about playing rugby – they’d be a devastating duo.”
Sonny Bill Williams
Leaving it late and making it much less likely, Sonny Bill certainly wants to play for the All Blacks in 2015, if only to keep his name up in lights.
He is currently galloping about flicking passes off the heal of his hand for NRL’s Roosters and may stay for a little while longer before, according to persistent rumours, moving back to the Waikato Chiefs in Super Rugby. The big question being that should he return to the Chiefs, will there be enough time to squeeze into World Cup contention? It will be a sponsor’s dream if he somehow does.
OK, so his introduction to international rugby union hasn’t been great. He took his debut in the rain-sodden loss to Scotland in Newcastle last year and his last game was on the wing in that final thumping against the British and Irish Lions. However, he is always there or there abouts, and with new coach Ewen McKenzie’s penchant for counter-attacking rugby he could cling on and enjoy some running time in the build up to the World Cup.
He is arguably the least likely of the lot, but with his offloading game, brash shouldering in attack and continued improvement he could just surprise us all. A different and more defensively obvious centre option than Eastmond. He has two seasons to get into Lancaster’s long-term plans.