Recently in sport, it has been all the rage for a football superstar at one code to uproot themselves from the safety and security they have enjoyed, and try their hand at another code. Just this week it was announced that Benji Marshall of NRL and West Tigers fame has signed a two year deal with the Auckland Blues to play in the Super 15 rugby competition. However, are code jumpers detrimental for sport, or the superstars that keep bums on seats?
The argument can be made that code jumpers receive unfair pay packets purely based on their name and exploits in their previous sport. For example, the high profile switches of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau from rugby league to AFL (and Folau now to union) garnered both support and disappointment. It is true that the teams the above went to, the GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns did need high profile names to draw in fans in their foundation seasons. In saying this, in a game such as AFL, where to make the switch is a lot more difficult than say Berrick Barnes moving from league to union, I don’t agree with the code jumping. Hunt is only now starting to play like a serious AFL player, and Folau left his contract early. The Gold Coast Suns signing Gary Ablett, and the rumoured signing of Buddy Franklin to the Giants would have a much bigger impact for AFL, and unfortunately in these two cases I think it was a case of following the money, which was inflated due to a name.
Now it seems that playing more than one code is how to immortalise one’s self as an actual sporting superstar. Look at some examples. Sonny Bill Williams has achieved the highest forms in both league and union, winning an NRL premiership, Super 15 title and Rugby World Cup, representing his country in both forms. The sports fans that don’t appreciate such skill are kidding themselves, and I for one am glad to have had the opportunity to watch players in the Williams’ calibre light the field on fire. Craig Wing is another shining example of the success of code jumpers. After playing for both the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL, Wing left Australia to play rugby union in Japan in 2009. After three years playing, he was selected in the Japanese national side via residency. Wing has now played 6 matches for the Cherry Blossoms and scored his first try in the side’s historic win over Wales in June of this year.
Either way, I will be watching Benji Marshall with keen interest in next year’s Super 15. A notoriously poor defender, but with an attacking flair which has ignited the Tigers many times in the past, it will be very interesting to see how he fits into the Blues’ setup. Though he is a Kiwi, and knowing the Wallabies’ luck, we might be about to see the All Blacks’ next big thing, a la Sonny Bill Williams.