Wests Tigers icon Benji Marshall has vowed to find a new home in the NRL after seeking out the advice of Wayne Bennett, but early indications are that may be a struggle after being shown the door at Concord.
The Tigers officially called time on Marshall's second coming at the joint-venture via a press release on Tuesday afternoon, confirming he will not be offered a contract for 2021 due to "the reality with our roster management" according to CEO Justin Pascoe.
Marshall admitted his disappointment "with the way I found out – reading in the papers" that his tenure was coming to an end, a scenario confirmed by coach Michael Maguire and Tigers hierarchy on Tuesday.
NRL.com understands that Marshall's management has hit the phones in search of a one-year deal in the past 24 hours, but several mooted destinations appear unlikely at this point.
Newcastle and Manly are both considered unlikely to make a play for the 35-year-old.
Canterbury could yet present a viable option for Marshall given their uncertainty at the scrumbase.
Recent signing Blake Green's recovery from an ACL rupture presents a curve ball, leaving a senior playmaking void – depending on when he can get back on the park – but also chewing up salary cap space and a roster spot.
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The likely reduction of first-grade rosters from 30 to 28 will only heighten competition for topflight spots, while Marshall has previously ruled out a move to English Super League.
The 35-year-old however is ready to hit the market and bide his team to find a new deal, having already revitalised his career once on a bargain basement Broncos deal under Bennett in 2017.
"I feel like I can add a bit of leadership and mentoring to some teams and add a bit of experience," Marshall said on Fox Sports' NRL 360.
"But I'm just keen to play, I actually rang Wayne today and asked for a bit of advice on playing on and if he thought I could still play on.
"He mentioned that you're a long time retired, he said if you've still got the fire you're the only person who knows when it's right to give it away. It was great advice."
Marshall scuppered any suggestion of reuniting with Bennett at Redfern soon afterwards.
"I'm going to look at all opportunities and see what's out there and who knows. Nobody might be interested, so I might have to retire," he said.
Marshall made a storied homecoming to the Tigers in 2018 and enjoyed an impressive return to form under first Ivan Cleary and then Maguire.
However after an impressive start to 2020 that had both club and player weighing up another one-year contract, Marshall was controversially dropped by Maguire in round four amid concern around his defence, despite sitting second on the Dally M ladder.
He has since been returned to the starting side – where he will line up against Manly on Saturday night – but the Tigers are once again set to miss the finals.
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With the best part of $1.6 million tied up by Luke Brooks and Josh Reynolds, and other playmaking options signed on in utilities Moses Mbye, Adam Doueihi and Billy Walters, the club is prioritising other positions in their roster for next season.
That it is the Tigers making a call on their club legend and not Marshall himself has irked some, particularly with the announcement made via a press release.
The Kiwi international conceded his surprise at the move but refused to criticise the club's decision or its timing.
"Because I'm not on a massive wage at the Tigers I thought that making a decision at the end of the season would be fine because I'm not going to break the bank with the salary cap," Marshall said.
"Squads are going to 28 next year, the club's got five halves on their books next year and there was no room for me. But I'm a big boy that's part and parcel of rugby league.
"… To come back in 2018 and play the last two-and-a-half seasons so far here, signed on minimum wage with no expectations, I've just enjoyed it.
"It was a dream come true to come back here. I feel lucky that I've had this opportunity to come back. I would love to retire playing at the Wests Tigers.
"But due to decisions that the club has made it's not going to be."