BENJI Marshall is impressing Blues staff as he prepares to make his code switch to rugby union with the Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise.
Coach Sir John Kirwan praised Marshall’s professionalism as he joined the other New Zealand franchises in announcing their 32-man squads for the 2014 season on Wednesday.
A playmaker at Wests Tigers, Marshall was listed as an outside back for the Blues as he learns his new craft.
Kirwan said Marshall brought a sense of the unknown as well as crowd-pulling power.
“Everyone’s really excited about his involvement,” said Kirwan.
“He’s already been in the organisation and everyone is impressed with his professionalism and what he’s going to bring so it’s going to be great to see him grow into it.”
Marshall is in good company as a new arrival at the Blues with three vastly-experienced All Blacks – flanker Jerome Kaino, centre Ma’a Nonu and prop Tony Woodcock – all returning to the franchise after stints elsewhere and ex-All Blacks lock Tom Donnelly moving from the Crusaders.
Reigning Super Rugby champions the Chiefs may not have succeeded in luring Sonny Bill Williams back to Hamilton for next year but they have acquired some other big names.
Longtime All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina returns from Japan while powerful centre Robbie Fruean and former All Blacks prop Jamie Mackintosh switch to the Chiefs from the Crusaders and Highlanders respectively.
Perennial powerhouse franchise the Crusaders have signed former Fiji captain Nemani Nadolo, an imposing back who could fill the void left by Freuan.
Former All Blacks five-eighth Colin Slade returns to the Crusaders after three years with the Highlanders and will contend for the No.10 jersey with recent All Blacks debutant Tom Taylor and Tyler Bleyendaal in the absence of great Daniel Carter, who will miss most of the season while on a break from rugby.
The Highlanders have made All Blacks try-scoring sensation Ben Smith and No.8 Nasi Manu co-captains and will field 10 new faces next year as they seek to rebuild from a disastrous 2013 campaign.
Coach Jamie Joseph overlooked his 2013 skipper Andrew Hore, leaving the 35-year-old All Blacks first choice hooker this season without a Super Rugby contract.
Hore recently said he was still considering his options for next year and an announcement was forthcoming.
Key losses for the Highlanders from last year are wings Hosea Gear (to France) and Kade Poki (Japan), Nonu (Blues), five-eighth Slade (Crusaders), No.8 Mose Tuiali’i (Japan) and props Woodcock (Blues) and Mackintosh (Chiefs).
The highest profile addition for the Hurricanes is the return of prop John Schwalger following a three-year stint in France.