BENJI MARSHALL has been dumped as Kiwis captain ahead of this year’s Rugby League World Cup.
The West Tigers five-eighth was relieved of the role by coach Stephen Kearney, who said he made the decision in the best interests of the team as they look to defend the title they won in 2008.
The playmaker said he was “just going to have to live with” the decision.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Marshall told Fairfax NZ.
“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel some sort of disappointment at not being able to captain your country again.
“The decision was Steve’s and the New Zealand Rugby League’s, and it’s just a decision I’m just going to have to live with. At the end of the day I’m still an integral part of the New Zealand rugby league team. I’ve still got a job to do to help in the World Cup. That’s not going to change.
“Not having a ‘C’ next to my name is going to be different, but that’s not going to change me as a person or as a leader. If anything, I’m just going to have to be more up front and lead from the front a bit more, without having the captaincy. It’s not the end of the world. The decision’s been made, and we all have to move on. That starts with me.
“It was the proudest moment of my career, captaining my country. I was lucky enough that I got to break the record for most caps as Kiwi captain. But I’ve still got a job to do for the New Zealand Rugby League and that’s to win the World Cup.”
Kearney said it was a “very tough” conversation, but said it had to be done to give Marshall the best chance of being at his best at the tournament, to be held in the UK in October and November.
NZRL general manager of high performance Tony Kemp said Marshall had a huge workload and the decision was made to decrease this.
He said there was no bad blood between the star and Kearney.
”He’s upset. He’s immensely proud to be Kiwis captain and we’re all feeling for him, but there’s a bigger picture here.
”He’s had a lot of adversity in his career and historically he’s bounced back really well every time so we are expecting no different here.
“Our respect for him is immense and we appreciate that he’s hurting now, but we believe this decision will ultimately lift some weight from Benji and give the Kiwis every opportunity to defend the World Cup.”
Marshall had been captain since 2009.
He led the side to the Four Nations title in 2010, but the team has struggled since, losing their last four matches to the Kangaroos.
”Everyone knows there’s a fine line between getting close and winning and Benji at his brilliant best can be the difference, so we want to make sure the focus is really on him playing at that brilliant best,” Kemp said.
The NZRL is also intending to add sports science and psychology staff and restructure the high performance department.
”There’s never a good time to be doing something like this (stripping Marshall of captaincy) but it’s one of many changes we are going through,” Kemp said.
”Obviously with the World Cup and a lot of changes within the high performance focus during the last 18 months, it’s one of a number of areas we’ve looked to for improvement.
”If we think we can go into the World Cup like we did in 2008 and bring it back, that’s not going to happen. The English are spending millions of pounds on winning this cup.”
Simon Mannering and Jeremy Smith are expected to be in the running as Marshall’s replacement.