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Marshall Plan: Benji to back himself with support of coaching greats

Benji Marshall will lean on the likes of Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy when he takes over at the Wests Tigers next season but his focus right now is to soak up as much knowledge as possible from departing coach Tim Sheens.

Fronting the media ahead of Wests Tigers' Round 25 match against the Dolphins, Marshall confirmed he will see out the rest of the season as assistant coach before assuming the role of head coach in 2024.

Admitting news of his early tenure came as “a bit of a shock” when he got the call from Sheens on Tuesday, Marshall said his focus still remains on the 2023 season. 

And next year, when he is faced with the inevitable challenges that come with the tough role of a rookie coach, he knows he will be supported by some of the most successful coaches in the game. 

"Marshall, Marshall, he's over"

"It was surreal 12 months ago when I got appointed to be in this position to be head coach in 2025, so the fact that it's come sooner than I anticipated is a bit of a shock," said Marshall, who fronted the media in place of Sheens on Friday.

"It's been quite a steep learning curve, no doubt but at the same time, it excites me, the challenge. 

"Also I can give Wayne (Bennett) a call if I need to, I’ve spoken to Craig Bellamy, Todd Payten. So there are guys in the game who have reached out and said if I need to talk about anything they’re happy to help out.

"But I'll back myself. That's what I've always done in my life. Things that might seem impossible to some people but in my head, it's possible."

Flashback: Marshall the magnificent

Wests Tigers host the Dolphins at CommBank Stadium on Saturday in what will be the first time Marshall and mentor Wayne Bennett go head-to-head in the coaching box.

Having coached for over 40 years and known to have had a big impact on the former halfback's career, Marshall will no doubt have Bennett on speed-dial in his first year at the helm in 2024. 

But the final three rounds are about continuing to learn from the man who has helped Marshall's transition into coaching just as he guided his playing career for 11 years, with the pair delivering the joint-venture's only premiership in 2005. 

"He [Bennett] won’t give me advice because we are playing him this week," Marshall said. "But Wayne's one of those guys who's a life long friend to me. He'll always answer the phone and give me advice if I need it so I'm not afraid to reach out if I need advice.

NRL coaches scoring tries: Marshall to Payten

"But for me, without Tim, this opportunity is not possible. I have really valued his guidance so far and next year will be when the time comes for me to step up.

"There’s no doubt he’s one of the smartest minds in the game and his legacy at this club will be forever. He won the first premiership here and he brought a lot of the players here. I don’t think it will be the last we see of him."

With the Wests Tigers staring down the barrel of back-to-back wooden spoons this season, the former Kiwi superstar acknowledged the tough challenge that's ahead of him in bringing success back to Concord next season.

But the 346-game veteran is positive about the young talent in his roster, which includes the likes of Jahream Bula and Junior Tupou as well as 2024 recruits Latu and Samuela Fainu, and St George Illawarra playmaker Jayden Sullivan.

Wests Tigers v Warriors - Round 24, 2023

"I could have stayed in TV or worked in radio. But the difference for me is there is an absolute purpose in coaching that I really enjoy," Marshall said.

"It's not about the money, it's not about the challenge that it looks like it is. It's about what I actually get out of it. I really enjoy it, so I'll bring that enjoyment to work every day and again, try and turn those results around next season.

"We're making strides in the direction we want to go with the roster...I'm pretty happy with where it's at.

"Part of the transition for me is being able to be a part of the roster and who comes in... until you are head coach, you don't get to put your stamp on things as much and do things the way you do things so that part excites me."

Acknowledgement of Country

Wests Tigers respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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