Updated: 02/28/2013 05:32 | By Agence France-Presse

New Zealand drop Marshall as World Cup captain

The New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) stripped Benji Marshall of the Kiwis captaincy on Thursday, saying they wanted to ease the star playmaker's burden so he can shine at this year's World Cup.

New Zealand drop Marshall as World Cup captain

New Zealand drop Marshall as World Cup captain

Marshall led the Kiwis to an upset win over Australia at the last tournament in 2008 and coach Stephen Kearney said he had a "tough" conversation with the 28-year-old this week to tell him he will not be skipper at this year's event.

"Although this decision has been a difficult one, it has been made in the best interests of the team and Benji will remain an integral part of the Kiwis going forward," Kearney said in a statement.

NZRL high performance manager Tony Kemp said Marshall, who plays for Australian NRL club Wests Tigers, was demoted so he will be at his dynamic best when the Kiwis defend their title in Britain from October 26 to November 30.

"Because of who he is, he carries a massive workload for rugby league in general," Kemp said.

"Our respect for him is immense and we appreciate that he's hurting now, but we believe this decision will ultimately lift some weight from Benji and give the Kiwis every opportunity to defend the rugby league World Cup."

Australia have won nine of the 13 World Cup tournaments contested and are overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy again this year.

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