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Why Benji Marshall’s axing may backfire on Wests Tigers coach Maguire

But in axing Marshall, a player who received man-of-the-match honours in both the Tigers’ wins, Maguire has opened the door for murmurs of discontent in the playing ranks towards the hard-nosed coach to undermine what he is trying to build.

When players have turned to Marshall with concerns about the coaching style of Maguire in the past, the veteran has defended him to the hilt. There’s no greater supporter of Maguire at the club than Marshall, who was last year also appointed as New Zealand captain by his club coach.

Benji Marshall training with Josh Reynolds.

Benji Marshall training with Josh Reynolds.Credit:Getty

It’s why the decision to drop him sends a very strong message to the rest of the team that, if the co-captain and the coach’s favourite can be dropped, everyone is on notice.

“I was little bit shocked and disappointed that I got dropped,” Marshall said on NRL 360.

“Any player would be in that position. If you’re competitive and you want to be part of the team, of course you are going to be disappointed … what the coach has done has really put everyone on notice that we’re looking for consistency, so you can’t go up one week and down the next week.”

There’s also a fear internally at the club that it may backfire on Maguire, who has relied so heavily on Marshall to be the conduit between him and his players. That, perhaps the man who played the role as the coach’s eyes and ears within the squad, might no longer be watching and listening if the veteran feels disrespected by Maguire’s decision.

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire barking instructions.

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire barking instructions.

Since arriving at Tigers headquarters in 2019, Maguire has ruffled some feathers – including that of Ryan Matterson, who walked out on the club to link with Parramatta because he didn’t want to work under Maguire.

The Tigers, concerned with welfare issues around the players in regards to Maguire’s intense training regime, brought in highly regarded high performance manager Andrew Gray in the offseason to control the training workload. Sources at the club say it has done little to change things.

“He’s made some massive calls,” retired club legend Robbie Farah said of Maguire’s host of changes on NRL Teams.

“I think Benji has been our best player in the two wins we’ve had. I think there are some other players in that side that can count themselves quite lucky, to be honest, because they’ve been going a lot worse than Benji has.

“Is Madge looking for a reaction? He’s cut the head off the leader, pretty much. So does everyone look at that and say if he’s done that, I’m next? He’s put everyone on notice by doing this, I just hope he’s made the right call because Benji is a leader and this is a club … that doesn’t have any leaders this year.”

The decision to drop Marshall is puzzling considering he currently sits equal second alongside Mitchell Moses, Tom Trbojevic and Clint Gutherson on the Dally M leaderboard with six points, one off pace-setter Jason Taumalolo.

Marshall was famously benched by former Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter back in 2013, which ultimately led to the five-eighth’s departure to rugby union and fractured the club given the treatment of the much-loved playmaker.

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He is off contract at the end of the year. Many, judging by his performances the last 12 months, thought he would run around again for the Tigers next season. He has also attracted interest from clubs in the Super League, appointing new manager Matt Desira to seek out options. But what Marshall does next year will hinge on how he responds to Maguire’s axing. Perhaps history may be repeating itself.

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