Wayne Bennett has ridiculed suggestions Benji Marshall hasn’t got the coaching experience required to successfully transition into the job amid revelations Wests Tigers tried to lure another premiership hero back to the club.
A decade after sacking him, the Tigers have announced they will reinstall Sheens as coach for 2023-24, with Marshall and Robbie Farah as his assistants. Sheens will then step down to allow Marshall to take over on a three-year deal. The reunion of key members of the 2005 premiership success could have been larger still had Cowboys coach Todd Payten accepted an invitation to return to Concord.
Coach-of-the-year contender Payten is contracted until the end of 2023, but Sheens discreetly enquired about his availability.
“I asked Toddy how he was going up there,” Sheens told the Sun-Herald. “He said ‘fine’. I asked, ‘How is the wife going up there?’ And he said, ‘Fine’. We smiled and that was it.
“I didn’t have to ask Todd. Toddy knew what I was asking. He’s a very intelligent guy and we go back to when he was 17 at the Raiders.
“That wasn’t long ago. You ask me about what I was doing, well we certainly hadn’t given up on the idea of someone taking the club and running with it.”
Instead, Marshall has been anointed as the man for the role after completing his apprenticeship under Sheens. The Kiwi international only retired last from the playing ranks last year, but his long-time mentor Wayne Bennett was adamant it wasn’t too much, too soon.
“Oh, he’s experienced, believe me,” Bennett said. “He’s been coaching for a lot longer than you think he has been.
“He just didn’t have ‘coach’ beside his name, he just had ‘player’. He will succeed. He’s very good with his leadership and management around players.
“There’s no bullshit with him. He knows the game extremely well, he knows the people in the game. He might not know someone until he comes to the club, but he will know that personality very well.
“I won’t be out there in a wheelchair or walking stick ... Right now the club could do with a bit of experience.”Tim Sheens
“There’s a lot of fun in him, he doesn’t like doing sad.”
The Tigers’ succession plan has been ridiculed in some quarters, but it’s the same one Bennett employed at South Sydney and will again be used by the seven-time premiership-winner at Redcliffe.
“The problem with most clubs is they don’t have a plan,” Bennett said. “It’s reaction, reaction, reaction and we all know how that goes. The Tigers are in a pretty bad state, they’ve had a lot of coaches over a short period of time. It’s not ideal, it’s not what people want to see, and you have coaches knocking the job back that have never coached in the NRL, so that’s not a good sign either.
“Tim has been a great coach in his time and he’s still got passion for the game. You can put young guys like Benji around him. I think it’s a great decision they made, it will stabilise the club.
“Tim will be able to handle all the criticism. I’m going the same path at Redcliffe; I’ll be the punching bag when things are going bad. That’s fine. Tim and I are used to that, you can’t hurt us. You protect the young coach and get the club stable and on the right road and then your young coach can come in and have a pretty good run at it.”
Sheens only agreed to step back into head coaching the Tigers once Marshall and Farah fully committed to being his assistants. The 71-year-old rolled his eyes when asked if he was too old for the job.
“The energy of Benj and Robbie, they’re full of effervescence, and it’s not as if I’m out there playing,” Sheens said.
“The ageism thing annoys me. I’ve been involved in this business 50 years, I know what’s required. People can say what they like. They’ve said it about Wayne, too. Us two old farts ... there’s a finiteness about it. I won’t be out there in a wheelchair or walking stick doing it, but right now the club could do with a bit of experience.”
Brett Kimmorley is the interim coach and will remain in the role, including Sunday’s clash against Penrith, which will feature the inaugural Royce Simmons Trophy. The Tigers want Kimmorley to remain at the club.
Simmons, who is battling dementia, joined Sheens on Saturday, and loved the fact his old mate was back at the helm.
“Tim is the best coach I played under, the best coach I worked with, and his love of the game is still unbelievable - I’ve never seen a guy who lives for footy like he does. I think he’s the ideal person to put in right now,” Simmons said.
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