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Bazball Benji: Taking a different approach to coaching Tigers might be just crazy enough to work

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22nd March, 2024
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Amid all the hullabaloo about Benji Marshall daring to be different by not being totally engrossed 24/7 with being Wests Tigers coach, the key question is: why not?

It’s one of the enduring cliches among sports columnists that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 

Actually it’s a quote from an old book and not Albert Einstein as often claimed on inspirational posters and mugs. 

The Tigers tried the intense, work until you drop approach of Michael Maguire to whip the NRL’s whipping boys into shape. 

And it didn’t work. 

Marshall is adopting more of a new-age approach of creating a less intense environment where he is not being consumed by the role when he’s away from training, believing that his relaxed demeanour is what his players need. 

It’s the kind of Bazball style which the England men’s cricket team has attributed to their rebirth under Brendon McCullum. 

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As much as they will never admit it, their Ashes foes Australia have also leaned in to this mantra of less intensity in the dressing room translating into reduced pressure on each player to create an environment for them to perform at their best. 

Whether it works or not at Concord will play out over the course of this season and the next two if Marshall is lucky enough to become the first Wests coach to see out a contract since Tim Sheens’ first tenure at the club in the afterglow of the 2005 premiership triumph. 

“I come into work early before the players. We work as hard as we can until we get the job done and then we go home,” was Marshall’s response when this non-issue first flared up. “Because I prioritise my family between 5 and 8pm every night to find a work/life balance that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my job or care about working hard.”

Work smarter, not harder. Have balance. Makes sense, don’t it?

The Tigers are starting for rock bottom on the back of successive wooden spoons. 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 09: West Tigers assistant coach Benji Marshall looks on ahead of the NRL trial match between New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium on February 09, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Benji Marshall. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As hard as it is for their fans to digest after 12 straight seasons without a playoff appearance, they needed to take yet another step back to have any chance of going forward. 

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That means a rookie coach with no battle scars developing the young talent which has always been in abundance at the club, it’s just that they’ve rarely been able to keep the likes of James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods when they were entering their prime. 

Or they undervalued prospects like Josh Addo-Carr, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jeremy Marshall-King and Tevita Tatola who kicked in elsewhere. 

The members of the boardroom who lived by the backstabbing sword have been removed with one swift blow so the club now has a chance to have stable foundations so Marshall does not continually look over his shoulder. 

Their roster is improving. There are fewer players in the side now who are on the downhill slide of their career and with Jarome Luai on the way next year, he will be another experienced hand to take the load off Jahream Bula and whichever young playmaker emerges from the pack. 

Veteran halfback Aidan Sezer is the psuedo Luai this season as Marshall works out whether Lachlan Galvin, Bud Sullivan or Latu Fainu stands out as the best option to partner the Panthers playmaker long term. 

Sullivan flunked his opening audition last weekend in Canberra and has paid the price by being demoted to the bench on Saturday at Leichhardt against Cronulla. 

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Galvin has the jump on Fainu for now but the former Manly junior star may have the highest ceiling of the three with many good judges predicting he can be a difference maker. 

One of those judges was Scott Fulton, the club’s former recruitment chief who was parachuted into the role without the knowledge of Sheens or Marshall early last season by the bumbling executives who are also no longer pulling the strings. 

Fulton’s desire to throw a hefty contract at Josh Schuster last year is not looking great in hindsight due to his ongoing fitness struggles and Marshall was right to say they didn’t need him. 

Schuster failed as a five-eighth when given the chance last year and the Tigers don’t need to soak up more of their salary cap on high-priced second-rowers given that is one of the few positions where they are well stocked with John Bateman and Isaiah Papali’i prowling on the edges. 

They are much better off giving Galvin, Sullivan and Fainu a shot at cementing an NRL spot in the No.6 jersey just like Sheens did with some Kiwi kid from Keebra Park High School more than two decades ago. 

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