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Marshall the real loss for NZ in World Cup

All the focus may be on Sonny Bill Williams' absence, but it's the loss of former skipper Benji Marshall that will be hardest for New Zealand to overcome in the World Cup.
Marshall the real loss for NZ in World Cup
by AAP

By Ben Horne

SYDNEY, Oct 8 AAP - All the focus may be on Sonny Bill Williams' absence, but it's the loss of former skipper Benji Marshall that will be hardest for New Zealand to overcome in the World Cup.

New Zealand have had six years without SBW, even winning the 2008 tournament without him.

And while he would have been a massive addition, in reality the dual international never gave any indication he was keen on a Kiwi return.

But Marshall is a different story.

He's been a mainstay for the Kiwis since his Test debut in 2005, and his switch to Super Rugby means the defending world champions must now officially begin life without Benji.

The 28-year-old's final season in the NRL wasn't his best, and Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson are two of the best young halves in the game.

But losing the face of New Zealand rugby league before a major tournament is a loss that can't be underestimated.

Marshall was the spearhead of New Zealand's landmark upset over Australia in the `08 final and since then played 22 straight internationals before missing this year's May Test with injury.

Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale admitted it was strange to be named in a national side without Marshall, and described the five-eighth as "the team's heart and soul".

"It will be different without Benji, he was heart and soul of our team for a number of years and was out captain for a long time as well," said Nightingale.

"It'll be different without him but it's a credit to the depth we have.

"Usually in past years New Zealand loses a Benji Marshall or a Sonny Bill Williams and they're being replaced by people who are capable but not outstanding.

"Where as we've got Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran and Tommy Leuluai who can fill in those roles."

Nightingale was a squad member in `08, but didn't play in the historic 34-20 win in the final at Suncorp Stadium - in which Marshall scored the crucial go-ahead try.

The experienced St George Illawarra try-scoring flyer says New Zealand will enter camp confident of defending their crown.

Nightingale said Manly premiership-winner Foran would take control of the Kiwi halves.

"Kieran will be a mainstay of the team ... I'm not sure exactly what their plans are with the halves," he said.

"We'll probably play a warm-up game (against Cook Islands) without Kieran I'd say. Give him a rest and then see how we go.

"We've got a great squad, the depth in New Zealand rugby league has developed out of sight in the past few years. But there's still a lot of challenges ahead. England have a fair squad as well and the last two times we've been over to the Uk they've been the ones who have knocked us out of the competition."


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