Kiwis put hope in ‘bring back Benji’ campaign
Benji Marshall in actions for the tigers against Souths (AAP Image/Action Photographic, Renee McKay)
Former Kiwis coach Brian McClennan used a theme before each Test match in the successful 2005 Tri-Nations campaign. When they played Australia in Sydney, a place they hadn’t won since 1954, it was ‘bully the bully’.
Upon reaching the final and looking to achieve a first series win over the old foe for 52 years, ‘slay the dragon’ was chosen.
If Stephen Kearney was looking for an inspirational theme for their test on Saturday against the Kangaroos, perhaps ‘bring back Benji’ might suffice.
Named after the infamous ‘bring back Buck’ slogan, in reference to axed former All Black captain Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, Kiwi fans are encouraged to bring along these signs to the game. Captain Benji Marshall knows he holds the key to his side’s fortunes. His teammates know it. I talked to a taxi driver today and he confirmed it too.
If it wasn’t for Marshall’s 79th minute heroics in the 2010 Four Nations final or his poise in 2009′s drawn Four Nations match in London, New Zealand might not have much to draw upon for inspiration against their vaunted Australian rivals.
The Kiwis’ successes in recent years have come off the back of good ball control and low error rates, then calm execution through Marshall and the inside backs.
Coach Stephen Kearney understands the team’s strength lies in the forward pack, with debutants Sam Kasiano and Kevin Proctor to join veterans Simon Mannering, Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood to lay a platform for hooker Isaac Luke to shine.
Kieran Foran is a reliable halves partner and may allow Marshall freedom to play a more creative game. There is attacking potential in the outside backs, with fullback Josh Hoffman, a recalled Sam Perrett and newcomer Dean Whare forming a speedy backline. It is unproven but unseen, too.
Elijah Taylor’s utility role is a slight head-scratcher on paper; yet expect him to play a similar role to Shontayne Hape in the 2005 Tri-Nations final by adding defensive and dummy-half value to combat Australia’s Greg Inglis, Josh Morris and Billy Slater.
This Kiwi team has a World Cup pool play look about it, with the exception of players like Jeremy Smith, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and perhaps Kevin Locke. Expect Marshall to start strongly and channel the Bulldogs’ trio of Eastwood, Kasiano and Pritchard straight away. Otherwise it will be tough to come back.
Australia will play their usual structured play and look to expand as the game hits the 60 minute mark. Coach Tim Sheens enables his players to stick to a simple plan of error-free football, strong kick and chase and employing his speed-men as extra dummy-half runners.
Skipper Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater play so well as a combination, coupled with a hard-working forward pack, and it won’t be easy to combat their momentum as the match wears on.
But if the Kiwis can withhold a sustained Australian attack, plus Marshall can play with full confidence, New Zealand has a chance to end a three game losing streak. But only if his teammates can reinforce the mantra: ‘bring back Benji’.
Andrew Marmont is Radio Sport National’s rugby league analyst.