MARK ‘SPUDD’ CARROLL: Benji Marshall’s tenure as West Tigers NRL coach at risk and expansion will kill the NRL

MARK CARROLL
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Benji Marshall may be unable to save the Tigers.
Benji Marshall may be unable to save the Tigers. Credit: Getty Images

He is a rugby league legend, but I fear Benji Marshall will be the next NRL coach on the chopping block.

His Wests Tigers are on a nine-game losing streak and heading towards a third straight wooden spoon.

The problem for Marshall – in his first year in charge - is the Tigers are getting worse.

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I called their game against the Dragons in Wollongong, and I couldn’t believe how badly they fell away in the second half.

The Tigers led 14-12 at halftime … and lost 56-14.

At this level you should never concede 44 points in one half. No disrespect to the Dragons, but it’s not like they are the Panthers or the Storm.

Some of the Tigers’ errors would have made an under-8s team blush.

The way they were bullied by the Dragons pack, it was men versus boys.

The size difference alone makes me wonder if the Tigers are training hard enough in the gym.

We’ve heard all about their sensational Centre of Excellence at Concord, which even has its own hairdresser.

Well maybe these blokes are too pampered for their own good.

Forget about mid-fades or fancy mullets, climb out of the barber’s chair and get out to Campbelltown and do some real hard yakka in the area you’re meant to be representing.

They need to think about the guys who came before them for Balmain and Wests.

There’s no way the late, great Western Suburbs legend Tommy Raudonikis would have go to training to have his hair done.

Which brings me back to the coach.

Or more specifically, his decision to take a family holiday to Fiji last week when the team had the bye.

Marshall’s been talking about being a new-age coach with a balance between footy and family life, which sounds lovely, and would get him plenty of pats on the back.

But being an NRL coach is a different beast.

They live and breathe the game 24/7.

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 07:  Alex Seyfarth of the Wests Tigers talks to team mate Jahream Bula during the round 14 NRL match between St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on June 07, 2024, in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
Alex Seyfarth remonstrates with Jahream Bula during during the latest thrashing. Credit: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

I’m not being smart after the event. I thought right off the top it was a strange call for Benji to take a trip to Fiji.

I couldn’t imagine my old Manly coach legendary coaches Bob Fulton, Wayne Bennett or Craig Bellamy heading overseas for a week, especially if their side had just lost eight games in a row.

If the Tigers came back from the bye and knocked over the Dragons, Marshall would have been praised as a genius.

But they didn’t. In fact, it was their worst performance of the year.

My real beef though lays with the club administration. As they say, the fish rots from the head.

Where is their new CEO Shane Richardson? He’s been overseas too. He was in England trying to sign or offload players. But he should have been back here helping out his rookie coach.

I still can’t fathom how the Tigers gave Marshall a four-year contract in the first place.

He had just one season as an assistant coach under Tim Sheens. With all due respect to Sheens, he hadn’t won a comp since Benji was one of his players back in 2005.

Then at the end of last year the club gets rid of Sheens and says to Marshall “here’s the keys to the Ferrari”.

Seriously?

Other assistant coaches looking for an NRL gig - like Josh Hannay and Jason Ryles - have spent long apprenticeships working under their mentors.

It was the same for Craig Fitzgibbon and Cameron Ciraldo, who are doing well at the Sharks and Bulldogs respectively.

Too add another layer of drama, two of the Tigers’ best up-and-comers are looking to leave.

Exciting young rookie Lachie Galvin has asked for a release and I don’t blame him.

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 07:  Lachlan Galvin of the Wests Tigers warms up before the round 14 NRL match between St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on June 07, 2024, in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
Rookie star Lachlan Galvin wants out of the Tigers. Credit: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

He played a couple of decent games at the start of the year and suddenly he was hailed as the Tigers’ saviour.

He’s not a saviour – he’s an 18-year-old kid!

Prop Stefano Utoikamanu also looks like he’s going elsewhere, because Tigers officials reportedly agreed to a crazy clause that lets him leave if he doesn’t play two State of Origin games this year.

Some will argue they have contracts, and they should stick it out.

But ultimately you play this game because you to want to win a competition.

The Wests Tigers won’t win one in the next 10 years.

No way in the world.

Premiership-winners Jarome Luai and Sunia Turuva arrive from the Panthers next season. But they need another two or three high quality players if they are serious about playing finals footy for the first time since 2011.

Luai goes great behind a Penrith pack that dominates every week. He’s like a puppeteer. But when he’s got to do all the hard work, he’ll go missing.

I would love to see the Tigers get their act together. When they won the comp, they attracted huge crowds which was great for the game.

But right now, they remind me of the old Balmain Leagues Club that sits decaying on Victoria Road at Rozelle - an absolute shambles.

Unless things turn around in a hurry, Marshall will be the next coach to go.

AND DON’T GET ME STARTED

I’m really concerned by all this talk of expanding the premiership by including a team from Papua New Guinea or even the Perth Bears.

I think it would be a mistake.

I call NSW Cup games – the Reggies – for Fox League, and I can tell you first-hand, there’s not enough talent coming through.

Yes, the Dolphins have done really well since being entering the comp last year. But they’re coached by a guy named Wayne Bennett, and he can’t go to every new club.

In my opinion, each club needs 30 to 40 players of genuine first grade standard to have an elite competition. Right now, I’d say that figure would be closer to 20.

If you add more teams, that number will drop even lower.

There’s just not the depth.

Trust me, a bigger competition doesn’t always work out.

I played for Manly in 1995 when there were 20 teams and that competition was so lop-sided it wasn’t funny.

We won our first 15 games. Canberra did the same. Newcastle was something similar.

There were very few upsets because the lower ranked teams had a lot of players who just weren’t up to scratch.

We can’t let that happen again because the fans aren’t mugs.

They’ll quickly work out who the dud teams are and suddenly crowds and TV ratings will decline.

The game is flying now – don’t fix won’t ain’t broken!

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