James Mortimer 28.Jan.2014Getty Images
Carlos Spencer, who was spotted by Sir Graham Henry while playing for Horowhenua, debuted for Auckland in the early nineties before becoming arguably the eminent first five-eighth in Investec Super Rugby.
If not the rugby world.
Canterbury stalwart Andrew Mehrtens, less flamboyant but with a more controlled and steady game, ensured that Spencer didn’t have a mortgage on the All Blacks jersey as his career continued.
However when it came to the Blues, Spencer was the prominent navigator who guided the team to championships in 1996, 1997 and 2003.
The final year was when a young Whakatane born player made his debut for the West Tigers in the NRL, and the same year a young Benji Marshall was selected to play for the Australian Schoolboys.
Despite the best attempts of systems across the ditch to lock him in, Marshall pledged his allegiance to his country of birth, and then engineered one of the great rugby league careers, playing 201 matches while scoring 76 tries.
Then came the switch to the Game they play in Heaven, hardly ground breaking as other internationals from the 13-man code had attempted the transition, but Marshall’s circumstances are different.
Sonny Bill Williams arrived after a French rugby education under Tana Umaga, while Brad Thorn came into the code twice, with a reputation as being one of the great colossuses of the sporting world.
Marshall left the Tigers as the club’s leading try and points scorer, but loyal fans from the inner west voiced their displeasure, while critics said that form and injury equated to what was a risky signing for the Blues.
Such words were used with regularity when talking about Spencer.
Marshall brings the same audacious portfolio of skills to the table, even though the talented footballer had admitted he is starting from scratch.
From managing play on both sides of the field, from reading a defensive line with two extra men, the early part of the stars education has been learning the various offensive systems the Blues hope to unleash.
On the training field, the initial hesitation is being replaced with more confidence.
Feet are being planted more firmly on the ground, the physique is beginning to bulk up, while Sir John Kirwan has said that 10, not 15, may be the ideal position for Marshall.
Considering he was originally going to ‘ease his way in’ via fullback, already the path has been walked faster than expected.
He is still to get into the nitty gritty and perhaps the hardest transition for such a player - learning the nuances of the ruck. A tame beast in league compared to the close quarters combat we know so well in the breakdown area.
However if Benjamin Quentin Marshall continues to show this sort of progress, we can only wonder what will happen when he finally runs out in Blues colours.