WELLINGTON (AFP) – The Auckland Blues emerged Saturday as the frontrunner to snap up rugby league star Benji Marshall who said the prospect of becoming an All Black could motivate him to switch codes.
New Zealand-born Marshall, 28, is being wooed by three Super 15 rugby union franchies -- the Blues as well as Australian sides NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels -- after announcing he was ending his decade-long relationship with Sydney league club Wests Tigers.
A move to the Blues would mean a substantial pay cut, but after spending a day being courted by Blues officials, including coach John Kirwan, Marshall said his preference was to move to Auckland with an eye on an All Blacks jersey.
"It's looking promising, if it all works out according to plan then hopefully I do end up playing here," said Marshall before returning to Sydney late Friday.
"I've got to take into account all my options but the opportunity to maybe one day play for the All Blacks is a pretty big motivator for me.
"Obviously I'm pretty nervous about that, but at the same time excited at the prospect of having the opportunity."
Since making his first-grade debut in 2003, the Tigers playmaker has gone on to become the club's all-time leading point-scorer and captain the New Zealand league team.
He recently sought a release from the final two years of his Tigers contract and said a decision on his playing future is likely next week.
New Zealand media reports Saturday indicated the Blues salary and commercial package offer to Marshall amounted to about NZ$500,000 (US$392,000) meaning he faced a NZ$365,000 pay cut.
But the player's agent Martin Tauber told Fairfax Media it was not about the money.
"They are talking about a two-year deal and we are comfortable about that. It's not about the money. Whether it's $500,000 or $600,000, he will make the decision for his football career," he said.
"Ultimately it's about the opportunity. He wants to play 15s for the All Blacks. Whether the sevens comes into the mix is yet to be determined. It's a whole new desire and motivation for him."
Marshall has been tipped as an ideal candidate for the New Zealand Sevens team when the rugby union spin-off makes its Olympic debut in 2016.