The announcement of Benji Marshall’s five-year deal, which will see the premiership winner take over as Wests Tigers coach in 2025 has been described as a “massive risk” by Balmain legend Benny Elias.
Marshall will take over as head coach after doing a two-year apprenticeship under coaching legend Tim Sheens, who will move back into the head coach’s chair for 2023 and 2024.
Speaking to Wide World of Sports, Elias admitted the club’s decision was a left-field choice but backed them while questioning the length of the deal.
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“It’s a big risk. It’s a massive risk. But it’s a risk they’re willing to take as members of the board,” Elias told Wide World of Sports.
“I would go for the tried and true, I’m a conservative bloke and I’ll always want to know what I’m getting for my buck. Here you don’t know what you’re getting for your buck.”
Marshall played most of his 346-game NRL career at the Tigers, while Sheens, who is currently the director of football, coached the club to 128 wins from 249 games from 2003 to 2012, including a premiership featuring Benji’s iconic grand final flick pass in 2005.
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After an unsuccessful attempt to hire Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo on a five-year deal, the Tigers looked within, before settling on a succession plan that banks on what the club describes as “Wests Tigers DNA”.
It’s arguably the most unexpected call in recent NRL history, shunning more experienced premiership-winning coaches on the market like Shane Flanagan and Paul Green to go with a virtual novice.
In some ways it completes the backflip to end all backflips, with Marshall invited deep back inside the tent after the Tigers pushed him out twice during his playing days. He ultimately finished his career with the Rabbitohs in last season’s grand finale.
Throw in Tim Sheens’ reunion with the club after being sacked 10 years ago and the Tigers look like a club fresh out of ideas. Picking club greats to coach their former teams often ends in tears as Nathan Brown, Wayne Pearce, Brad Fittler and a host of others discovered.
Des Hasler’s success at Manly is probably the exception although he worked his way up from Harold Matthews to the senior position over several years. The agreement Benji has with the Tigers will see him take an assistant’s role for two years before taking over the top job on what is effectively a three-year contract to be head coach.
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While he has no NRL coaching experience, Marshall has been working with the club’s younger players in a consultancy role throughout the year. His role in the latter stages of his playing career was, by his own admission, also the start of a coaching apprenticeship, with the star five-eighth becoming a bit-part player on the field but playing a significant mentoring role off it.
“It’s a bold move by the board, I welcome it. I support it because I love the club. Would I have done it differently? Definitely,” Elias said.
“I’ll support what they do because I love the Tigers. It’s the love of my life and I continue to support whatever they do, good, bad or indifferent.
“I have my opinions; whether they’re right or wrong I don’t know. But this is a bold, bold move, five year contract for a block who has not done any coaching whatsoever, but I welcome it because they’re trying something different.
“I think every Wests Tigers supporter out there would support Benji Marshall and Tim Sheens getting involved and hungry again. It’s got to be a good thing for the club overall. Only time will tell.”
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The current crop of top-line coaches in the game now proves experience in the role before taking on the big job is essential. Wayne Bennett honed his craft for 10 years before joining Canberra in 1987 and then Brisbane to go on and begin their 90s dynasty.
Trent Robinson had stints as an assistant at the Knights and Roosters, before coaching Catalans in the Super League and then taking on the Roosters in the NRL.
Craig Bellamy was an assistant at Canberra and Brisbane before taking over Melbourne.
Up and comers like Craig Fitzgibbon and Todd Payten have been in the coaching ranks for less time but have worked as assistants at multiple clubs before taking the reins of an NRL team.
The Tigers have a big nursery with several talented youngsters making their way into the NRL ranks, though their lack of discipline and recent propensity to leak information to the media, is a battle Marshall can win, says Elias.
“Benji will have a lot of discipline. When he gets ownership I think he’ll be very strict, very disciplined and you’ll know exactly where you stand,” he said.
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“I find that a very important trait. And there are things like leaking of information, the coach we’ve got presently, there’s a lot of things we need to change. Benji realizes that, I spoke to him last night.
“They’ve done things with the very experienced people, people who have won premierships in the past, they haven’t worked. We’re talking about Madge, he’s been there for four years.
“That just didn’t seem to work. When things aren’t working you have to do something different, which is what they’ve done. A bloke like Benji Marshall is very confident, very knowledgeable, ticks all the boxes.”
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