Benji Marshall may be left with no choice but to retire from the NRL at the end of the season, with rival clubs showing little appetite to sign the veteran playmaker in 2021.
But Marshall’s sudden departure from the Wests Tigers has torn the scab off a wound that has been festering at the club for the last two seasons under coach Michael Maguire, and is now threatening to undermine his tenure.
Benji Marshall: ‘I’m not angry, it’s more I wish I could have retired here.’Credit:Getty
While few could argue with the club’s decision to head in a new direction given their results in recent years, the news of Marshall’s exit comes amid persistent talk from within the playing group that coach Michael Maguire has lost the dressing room with his hard-nosed approach.
The veteran playmaker had long been a conduit between the coach, a tough taskmaster, and his sensitive dressing room. But sources inside the Tigers believe that changed following Marshall’s shock axing in June, which came despite the five-eighth sitting second on the Dally M medal leader board after four rounds.
A ploy that was designed to put the players on notice left some of them walking on egg shells ever since – and now the Tigers find themselves in an all-too-familiar situation, with players blaming the coach and the coach questioning his players on the back of another disappointing season.
One of the main reasons Maguire was appointed coach – apart from Wayne Bennett pulling out of the race – was the fact he believed there was no issue with the roster. His feelings have since changed dramatically, and players have taken offence to messages being played out in the media.
Maguire has been entrusted with the task of eradicating a decade-long soft underbelly at the club, but some are starting to question whether he needs to adjust his coaching style to suit the players at his disposal – at least until he gets the team he wants in 2022. He has inherited a roster of personalities that suits a style of coaching that is the polar opposite of what he stands for. A roster that suited former coach Ivan Cleary.
Tigers coach Michael Maguire.Credit:Getty
But instead of evolving his methods to get the best out of a bad situation, Maguire is coaching the same way he did when Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Ben Te’o were in the sheds with him at South Sydney.
Luke Brooks, who Maguire encouraged the club to re-sign until 2023 when he arrived at Concord, is a shadow of the player that wore the No.7 jersey under Cleary.
The former coach’s willingness to play to Brooks’ strengths, and provide the occasional cuddle, saw him finish second in the Dally M medal in 2018, and looked as though he would finally realise his potential. He’s struggled ever since.
Maguire, as he constantly reminds the players, has won premierships. He knows what it takes. But the ‘‘my way or the highway’’ approach appears to be wearing thin.
In Cleary’s only full season with the Tigers, the club won 50 per cent of its games for the first time since their last finals appearance in 2011. They still finished ninth, but it would have been enough to reach the finals in most seasons over the past decade.
The club has gone backwards since, but it can’t and won’t add Maguire to its long list of sacked coaches any time soon. If anything, it will extend his tenure beyond 2021. But the rumblings of discontent have left the coach second-guessing himself and prompted Monday’s honesty session, at which issues of trust and communication were raised.
The Tigers only have $1 million left in their salary cap for next year, and five spots to fill. How Maguire handles the next 12 months, coaching a largely disengaged team until he gets the players wants, will dictate how long it takes the club to end its nine-year finals drought.
There's also a perception among the playing group that the coach avoids confrontation. It was evident again during the week when Marshall walked into Maguire's office on Monday and strongly suggested he should play on in 2021 at the Tigers.
Maguire, despite playing a leading hand in the decision not to extend the club legend, left the door ajar and told Marshall to give him 24 hours to see if he could do anything else.
The club, already booked in for a meeting with his manager later that day, didn't budge on the original decision. but Marshall was left disappointed that Maguire couldn't tell it how it was.
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