New Zealand Test prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves says Benji Marshall’s decision to quit rugby league will be a huge blow to the Kiwis’ hopes of retaining the World Cup in the UK later this year.
Marshall this week requested a release from the final two years of his Wests Tigers contract at the end of the season to take up rugby union.
It would almost certainly put an end to his international league career – less than two years after he was named the world’s best player at a ceremony at the Tower of London.
Super Rugby’s NSW Waratahs, the Auckland-based Blues and Melbourne Rebels are all believed to be in the running to secure his services with Japanese rugby also an option for the 28-year-old.
Sydney Roosters prop Waerea-Hargreaves said he was shocked by the news and said Marshall’s departure would be a huge loss to the game.
“I was really surprised, I got back from holidays over the bye week and the first thing I heard was that Benji is off to play rugby,” Waerea-Hargreaves told AAP.
“It’s massive news for the game … hopefully he doesn’t leave. He’s a great player, a great icon of the game and I truly believe we should be trying to keep him.
“He is a good mate and I wish him well but I was pretty bummed out when I heard he was planning on moving.”
The Kiwis will fly out to England in October to begin the defence of the World Cup they so memorably won by beating Australia in the 2008 final in Brisbane.
Marshall played a starring role that night and although he was stripped of the captaincy by Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney earlier this year, he would have been a vital part of his plans.
“He’s been a massive part of this rebuilding phase of New Zealand rugby league and will be a big loss,” Waerea-Hargreaves said.
“But I don’t feel let down by him at all. He’s made a decision and as a good mate you have to back him 100 per cent.”
New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Phil Holder confirmed Marshall wouldn’t be a part of the Kiwis World Cup plans.
“Steve Kearney has been interviewed on this particular point this week in New Zealand and he’s made it clear that if Benji is not playing rugby league then his options with the Kiwis are pretty narrow,” Holder told AAP.
“It’s a huge disappointment there’s no doubt about that but it seems a genuine and heartfelt decision by him and you have to support him which is what we do.”
“But this creates opportunities now for other players to step in and take on the challenge.”