Benji, Benji, Benji



Three Benji’s in Auckland?

Most of us know that the original Benji left Rugby League for Super 15s club Auckland Blues but maybe there is another couple just like him in Auckland – at the Warriors!

After watching the 9s extravaganza and then the Warriors trial game demolition of Brisbane it looks like both Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins are creating similar attacking havoc as Benji mesmerized defences with in his heyday. No surprises there as both are already known all over the footy world for their incredible talents, Johnson for New Zealand and Warriors in NRL while Tomkins has done it for England and Warriors in Super League.

But the similarities don’t end there. The positive effect they have had on the style of attack of their clubs and countries in such extravagant style sets them all apart from other conventional attacking individuals and teams.

Wow aren’t Johnson and Tomkins a handful for defences? Speed and evasion and good hands too – both catch and pass aspects – and in Johnson’s case kicking as well and goal kicking!

The original Benji hit the Tigers and the NRL with much the same excitement. He brought a flavour to our sport that was so far from the Vanilla of almost every other player and club, and not with just chocolate, caramel or even strawberry. No he brought something peculiarly exotic to the footy code that refused to embrace other players who tried to be different.

This was Benji-flavour and his coach and club committed to build their club into a Benji-flavoured entity from top to bottom. Even their defence had some Benji essence – certainly well different to the standard principles of D in NRL.

It won the Tigers a premiership and to a lesser extent, his country a World Cup

As Shaun Johnson’s achievements mount in his so far short career, he could well emulate his Kiwi predecessor in the excitement stakes. Tomkins is more than half way there – in Super League at least. Now for the really big tests in NRL footy – for both of them. And their club.

TVNZ commentators Andrew Voss and Darryl Halligan represent many footy fans thoughts in their excitement and expectation about the Warriors in 2014 and of course each of these precocious attacking talents. Voss tweeted “Could be a fun year watching @NZWarriors” post the Dunedin trial victory.

There are some other questions that may be worth considering before it all gets cracking.

The obvious is on Tomkins ability to adapt to NRL. Plenty of his countrymen have done it well in recent times – Burgess x 2 (and counting), Graham and Ellis I hear you say but there are very different challenges for the fullback as the others were all forwards but more importantly, orthodox.

Tomkins is very tough and ultra-competitive but not orthodox. He is very good under the high ball and deceptively strong and quick with great footy instincts in attack featuring his eye for a try in support play but his orthodox traits end there.

His running style is very unorthodox with an incredibly long stride length. This is good for speed but not when returning kicks against aggressive and disciplined kick chase teams where he will find himself rag-dolled and bum-rushed backwards without an immediate adjustment in his natural method. This has been his weapon against sometimes feeble defences in Super League.

It may be his liability in NRL once his opponents do their homework.

His positional play in goal line defence will need urgent attention also.

Likewise it’s time for Johnson to confront his exposed weaknesses if he is to lead the Warriors to the Promised Land of play offs and premierships.

His tackling has not improved and it is now no secret where the top teams go when the chips are down or even just to make soft metres for teams coming out of their own end of the field. Warrior’s right side D was a rabble at times in 2013 and the problems won’t go away in 2014 without addressing his attitude and technique in the tackle department.

More than this Johnson’s general attitude to other tough aspects of the game has not yet been addressed at this early stage of his career. If Thurston, Cronk, Cherry Evans, Pearce and Maloney are the bench mark half backs, compare their physical and mental toughness – their competitiveness – to Johnson’s.

Now I know that Benji carved out a great mark in footy doing it his way but he had a club coach for almost his entire career that went with him on Benji-flavoured footy. Look what happened when he didn’t have that coach and what happened to his club when it wasn’t working as well under the old coach.

Will Auckland Warriors club do likewise and go the unorthodox way to make their achievements in an NRL competition that almost demands they can’t?

Can their coach manage a method of utilizing the exotic attacking talents but add toughness and competitiveness and traditional defensive techniques to these almost unique attacking players?

What would you do if you were in charge?