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Having broken the mould as a player, Benji Marshall plans to do likewise with the clipboard.
“I’m just not really a typical head coach, I don’t reckon,” Marshall said. “I’m away from it. I’m not 24-7 coaching.
“I like people to be themselves. I just want to create an environment where people want to be and they want to play for you and give their best.
“That’s probably it. The Xs and Os to me, they don’t matter as much as making the players feel confident in their ability and wanting to play for the club and doing their best every time they put the jersey on. That’s probably more important for me.”
Marshall revolutionised the game during his playing days. The left-foot step. The flick pass. The confidence to make audacious plays under pressure that no other playmaker had the courage to attempt. From Tim Sheens, he learnt how to analyse a game and break down a defence.
His other great mentor, Wayne Bennett, taught him that you get the best out of people when you create the right environment. While he will heed those lessons, Marshall will put his own spin on the job in his first year as Wests Tigers head coach.
Benji Marshall is going to do it his way as Wests Tigers coach.Credit: Getty
“That’s what I mean about ‘different’,” Marshall explained. “I don’t make it about me, everything we do is about the team. When I said I’m not your normal coach, I don’t feel like I am. I retired two years ago.
“I’ve come from playing 20 years in the NRL and got a lot of different ideas and I’m gonna do things a little bit differently to probably what most coaches do. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about team first.”
Marshall made his NRL debut while still a precocious teenager. A more conservative coach may have shackled him, but Sheens allowed his young five-eighth to express himself on and off the park. It’s the same environment the former Golden Boot winger wants to foster for his players, particularly exciting young halves Latu Fainu and Jayden Sullivan.
“When you sign players, you’re always looking for that X-factor, looking for what they can do a little bit differently or how they create space for others or how they run the footy,” Marshall said.
“With both of those guys, they both have a lot of talent, a lot to offer. I think probably they are only at the beginning of what they’ve been able to give so far.
“I think it’s really important we create an environment where they can not only grow as players but be themselves and come out of their shell. If they’re cocky and confident, be cocky and confident. But work hard.
“That’s basically all I’m looking for from those guys; it’s to be able to be themselves, take their strengths as players and implement it into how it fits into our team.”
The stereotypical NRL coach is a megalomaniac, forever working from sunrise to well after sunset. Marshall won’t be taking the cookie-cutter approach.
“People might think it’s probably a bit different, but I don’t like everything being about me and what I do,” he said.
“I’m not going to try and coach players to play like me.”
“What I do like doing is empowering other staff to do their job and give them responsibilities and accountability to do their jobs.
“I learned that off Wayne. It’s really important not to delve into every role and every job and be over the top of everything.
“In our [coaching] team Robbie [Farah] looks after the attack, John [Morris] looks after the defence, Chris [Heighington] will do the forwards and our effort areas and I’ll oversee the overarching theme of the way we want to play.
“Other than that, I let them do their jobs and have their say. They’re very experienced and very good at what they do. You don’t wanna overdo it but again, I also don’t want to come in and become a head coach and do it someone else’s way.
“I wanna do it the way I wanna do it. The way I see it working is the way I’m gonna do things.”
Benji Marshall during his playing days.Credit: SMH
Marshall boils down his overriding philosophy to just two words: Team first.
The 38-year-old has also promised to give his players the unvarnished truth. If it means dropping a highly paid player, because they are not putting in at training, then so be it.
“What I will say is that I’ve learnt that people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Marshall said.
“That’s probably the biggest thing. I make a real conscious effort to get to know our players and make sure they feel comfortable enough to me that they’re not scared to talk to me about things, whether it’s life or footy.
“We have a good enough relationship where I just tell the truth. If you’re fit, I’ll say you’re fit. If you’re unfit, I’ll tell you you’re unfit. That’s all I know.”
There is no bigger challenge than the one Marshall is undertaking; a rookie coach inheriting a side that has finished the past two seasons in last place. Complicating matters further is an independent review that could potentially result in an overhaul of a maligned board and executive structure.
Yet perhaps the most intriguing narrative is whether Marshall will get frustrated when his charges can’t perform the way he was able to on the field.
“I’m not going to try and coach players to play like me,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t even think it’s relevant for our players because a lot of them play differently to how I played. I want them to be themselves and look at their strengths and how that fits into our game, not make them play like me.
“Sure, I can give them tips and tools about how to beat a defender or how to count numbers on the short side. I can give you all those things, that’s fine, but I’m not going to try and make any of them play like me.
“I think that’s unfair, but I do have a process of how I want us to play and what that looks like.
“In that process they’ll be able to use their strengths and their abilities to shine throughout it. Again, it’s not about me and it’s the same for Robbie, it’s the same for John.
“We don’t want players to play how we play, we want them to fit into our system, but play with their strengths. That’s important.”
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