This week looms as a vitally important one for two of rugby
league’s most exciting playmakers. Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson have a lot
in common – they are both central pieces in the jigsaw puzzles at their
respective clubs, they both have the ability to win a game on their own – and,
unfortunately, both were benched by their coaches last weekend.
How will they respond?
The Wests Tigers are going through a particularly difficult
time at the moment, as evidenced by last week’s capitulation against South
Sydney. Much of the talk in the lead-up to the game was the fact that coach
Mick Potter had named Benji on the bench after some indifferent form and the
pressure on their star five-eighth won’t have eased following that 54-10
I understand how difficult it must be for Benji right now.
It’s hard for someone of his stature in the game to be up every week and that’s
his biggest challenge. The microscope is really on him at the moment and
everything he does is scrutinised. There comes an expectation for him to
perform at his usual standard each week. Players are human and you can find
yourself out of form at times for whatever reason but as hard as it is he is
the only one that can rediscover the Benji everyone expects.
As for why he is struggling this year, I’m not sure. Perhaps
the departure of the only NRL coach he has ever had, Tim Sheens, has had an
effect. One thing I have observed in all of those great players over the years
is that they have a very tight network of confidantes who are honest with them
and who they trust. People who tell them exactly how it is.
I know, for example, that Darren Lockyer and Wayne Bennett
were extremely close. When Locky had a bad game, which was rare, he would seek
the advice of Wayne who was very honest and up front with him. All the great
players do the same so that could be a factor for Benji. Tim Sheens would have
been a confidante over the years. The club has also moved on a number of
players and other coaching staff – all of whom could have been some of the guys
that Benji confided in. I feel for him because for so long he has been a
champion but he is going through a tough time at the moment, both individually
and as a group at the Tigers.
But I have no doubt the Tigers will eventually find their
way back again. Coaches hate to use excuses but they are dealing with a huge
injury toll and missing some senior players that are very influential in the
playing group. The young guys are trying to find their way but it knocks you
around when you are missing so many senior players.
The Warriors, on the other hand, are impossible to read. You
look at that side on paper and have to question what on earth is going on
there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Warriors side get beaten like they did
against Penrith last week. You look at the players they’ve got there and it
simply poses more questions than answers.
I’ll be interested to see what Shaun Johnson produces
against Newcastle this week after he was hooked by coach Matthew Elliott. Much
will also depend on how Elliott deals with what happened during the week. I’ve
seen players get brushed altogether by their coach after being hooked whereas
other times it is used simply as a wake-up call and a reality check.
Bennett could be very harsh with his approach but at the same time I’ve seen
him employ the softly-softly approach to a situation depending on the player
involved. Let’s hope Elliott gets it right with Johnson.
The Warriors really need to put that horror outing last
weekend behind them. Sometimes you just have a horrible night so now it’s all
about how they rebound as a group. They have to be honest with each other and
take ownership of the situation they are in.
The key is to stay as tight as possible as a group.
Unfortunately when a club goes through tough times like these you can start to
splinter as a playing group. It can fall apart and you start to look outside
for excuses. It has to come from within the group to find a way out of a tough