Marshall eyes starting halves role at Tigers
Wests Tigers recruit Benji Marshall is not returning to his old club to simply be an encyclopedia on how to orchestrate attacking plays.
He wants to push for a starting role in the halves and coach Ivan Cleary has given him the green light to do so.
The 268-NRL game veteran reports to the club’s Concord Oval base on Friday for a barrage of sports medicine and other high-performance tests before fulltime pre-season training starts next Friday.
He announced last August that while the Brisbane Broncos helped save his career in 2017, he had “unfinished business” at Wests Tigers, the club he helped deliver a premiership to in 2005.
Cleary is only too happy to accommodate that request.
“He will help drive what we want to do here. He wants to help the club improve on and off the field. I think it’s great he’s back here – it’s fantastic,” Cleary told NRL.com.
“He brings a tremendous amount of goodwill to the team. When I got here last year there was a sense of disconnect between some of the more high-profile guys at the club with the others.
“It didn’t sit well with me, and I’m not blaming anyone, but it’s nice to hear someone like Benji who loves the club and wants to come back.”
The benefits to Cleary as he puts his team together with other high-profile acquisitions like Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino, are immeasurable.
To the outsider, Marshall’s role will be similar to that at the Broncos last season – coming off the interchange bench as a back-up for the halves and possibly at fullback.
But Cleary is more than happy to sit back and watch Marshall battle with Reynolds and Luke Brooks for a spot in either the No.6 or No.7 jersey.
‘’In his own words, he’s looking to help those guys, but he wants to play there too,” Cleary said. “I don’t know how it all pans out in the end but he’s prepared to play that role.
“He thinks he’s still good enough to play, so if he’s the best option, then he’s the best option. But he’s also got to understand that we’ve invested a fair bit in our halves and we want to give them the best opportunity as well. So for me, it’s a really good situation to have.”
There’s no secret as to how Marshall can press his case.
“He’s just got to work hard in pre-season like everyone else,” the coach said.
Then he will have two trials against North Queensland Cowboys in Cairns and Cronulla Sharks at Campbelltown to force his way into the run-on side.
Like most Tigers fans, Cleary wants to see Brooks, who turns 23 in December, take more steps forward in his development. Marshall could be the key there. He left the joint-venture club the same year as Brooks made his debut in 2013.
“Luke is excited and so he should be. He had pictures of Benji up on his wall and now he gets this chance to work much more closely with him,” Cleary said.
“Josh (Reynolds) is equally excited as well. With Benji offering to help them as much as he can, and still wanting to be competitive with them in those positions, it’s a fairly unique situation, but a great one for us.
“Some guys are comfortable enough in their own skin and where they are at and Benji’s one of those. Guys like (Broncos half) Ben Hunt and (Anthony) Milford, Benji drove them hard and tried to improve them, while at the same time sitting on their tails which made them do their job.
“It’s a big couple of years for Luke I’m confident he can shoulder that responsibility.”