NSW Waratahs 33 – 12 Blues
Marshall’s Blues were no match for an impressive Waratahs outfit.
All eyes were on Benji Marshall in his first Sydney outing since quitting the NRL, but the former Wests Tigers star was outshone by an unheralded league convert in the Waratahs’ 33-12 Super Rugby trial win at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Twenty-two-year-old winger Alofa Alofa, an ex-Sydney Roosters under-20s player announced himself as a player to watch for the Waratahs this year with a try and several passages of dazzling footwork against the Auckland Blues.
Meanwhile, Kurtley Beale might have started at full-back, but he put his name forward to begin his comeback season at the Waratahs in the hotly-contested number 10 jersey, after igniting the New South Wales backline with the opening try, some sharp passing and then a brilliant first-half chip-and-chase.
Friday night’s match started as a dour struggle, but soon opened up, with Beale, Israel Folau and rookie flyer Alofa putting together a tidy highlights package to kick-start the Waratahs season.
Blues number 10 Marshall was constantly on the back foot in his 40 minutes on the field, playing behind an overpowered pack missing several All Blacks forwards.
But if Friday’s hit-out was any indication, Marshall faces a steeper learning curve in his new code than many league converts before him, struggling to find his place in the game.
The former Kiwis captain was steamrolled by giant Waratahs back rower Will Skelton as New South Wales took an early 14-0 lead.
His timing proved out when he did finally get the ball in his hands, failing to find touch from a penalty and throwing a dud pass into an unsuspecting team-mate.
Marshall was replaced at half-time, coinciding with the benchmark of cross-code stars, Folau taking the field for the opposition – although the New South Wales full-back made a rare error, fumbling a kick which allowed Charles Piutau to bring the Blues’ back into the match at 21-12.
However, Folau made amends just 10 minutes later when he put Stephen Hoiles over in the corner with the silkiest of flick-passes to put the result beyond doubt.
NSW held the ball for virtually the entire opening 11 minutes of the match, before Beale scooped up a loose pass from half-back Nick Phipps and surged over from close range.
Bernard Foley started at five-eighth and also scored a try, but it was Beale who put the number 10 through a hole in the 13th minute with a pin-point face-ball at the line.
The Waratahs’ backs interchanged positions throughout the night, but the most revealing find of the night was West Harbour product Alofa – who finished off the try of the night in the 67th minute.
Tries: Kurtley Beale, Will Skelton, Bernard Foley, Stephen Hoiles, Alofa Alofa
Conversions: Bernard Foley (3), Kurtley Beale
Tries: Jordan Manihera, Charles Piutau
Conversion: Chris Noakes
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Matthew Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Pat McCutcheon, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Will Skelton, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Substitutes: Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Israel Folau (others not available)
Blues: 15 Albert Nikoro, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Benji Marshall, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Substitutes: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Tom McCartney, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 William Lloyd, 20 Patrick Tuipulotu, 21 Jordan Manihera, 22 Brendon O’Connor, 23 Sonatane Takulua, 24 Chris Noakes, 25 Simon Hickey, 26 Francis Saili, 27 Lolagi Visinia, 28 Baden Kerr, 29 Charles Piutau.