At the end of the 2020 season, the Wests Tigers will be waving goodbye to legendary half Benji Marshall – for a second time.
While it is unclear whether or not the New Zealander will play on for another season, the announcement he would not be doing so at his beloved Tigers was announced by chief executive officer Justin Pascoe on Tuesday.
Many fans would argue the club should do the exact opposite of whatever their roster management plans are – in fact, for most teams, a club legend willing to stay on less money than what he could likely get on the open market would be a godsend.
But Tigers HQ did not see it that way.
Yet it seems the club could’ve had their favourite son back for 2021 after he reportedly received lukewarm interest from other clubs.
Every good club needs strong leadership, both on and off the field, and even if Marshall would’ve served mostly in a second-grade role next year, his absence will place that much more pressure on the few leaders who remain.
While Benji’s play has been criticised this year, spending an extended period out of the line-up due to his defensive frailties, there are far worse backup playmakers.
Despite seemingly wanting to move on from the 2010 Golden Boot winner, coach Michael Maguire has still been compelled to play Marshall in 11 games this season, as is the state of the club.
Perhaps this is the ultimate reason Concord must move on.
On each Tuesday that Benji’s name was not on the line-up sheet, the proverbial media switchboard lit up to the tune of ‘where is he and when will he play next?’
It hasn’t helped that Marshall was absent for three losses, putting more pressure on his coach to pick him and on his teammates to win without him – especially scapegoat-elect Luke Brooks.
However, the team is 4-7 when he is present, 2-3 when he is not.
Marshall is still capable of good football – despite missing five games this year, he is among the league leaders in linebreak assists and 40-20s – but with the Tigers to miss the finals yet again in 2020, the club may indeed have made the right decision to move on from their former superstar.
The best teams in the league do not rely on 35-year-old-plus playmakers unless their name is Cameron Smith.
In fact, the league-best, 14-win Penrith Panthers boast one of the youngest teams in the NRL. Their western Sydney neighbours are clearly offering themselves no long-term solutions by rolling out the league’s second-oldest player, and this club needs long-term solutions like no other.
With Benji gone next year, Maguire will not be able to fall back on the former ace when his halves pairing of the day does not win.
This may mean more losses next year than this, but it may mean more wins on the horizon than if Marshall continued to bail his club out into 2021.
There will be hurt during this divorce, but for a club with a road back to the finals that seems longer than any other, a small dose of pain may prevent another ten years of it over the next decade.