Recently Benji Marshall asked for a release from the Wests Tigers.
To most fans of the game, that sentence is unbelievable. They’ve always considered Benji a one-man highlights machine who seemed to love the game and the fame he has earnt himself off the field.
To this Wests Tigers fan, the writing has been on the wall for half a decade.
This decision by Benji, for me, is akin to turning off the life support for a dearly beloved family member who has lived the last few years in absolute agony. You don’t feel sorrow insomuch as you feel relief that the pain and suffering is over.
Because the last 18 months of Benji’s career has been nothing short of woeful. Turmoil within the club has seen half the squad leave, most of whom were good mates of Benji’s.
Then there was the falling out with former Tigers coach Tim Sheens at the end of the 2012 season, whom Benji had looked to as a father figure.
And this year there was the much publicised contract negotiations which eventually broke down. The stalling point was in regards to a handshake deal Benji had made with former CEO Stephen Humphries that was not honoured by new interim CEO Grant Mayer.
Much has been said by Benji and his manager, a lot of it in frustration, a lot of it misguided, all of it overanalysed by journalists trying to find another angle.
Benji said some things that seemed odd, such as:
“I wouldn’t have taken pay-cuts all those years to help the club be under the cap. If it’s about money, why would I do all those things?”
Benji’s last contract extension had a clause in it that if the salary cap was to go up after he signed, then the club would renegotiate his salary. This happened when the Tigers offered him $750,000 for the remaining 2 years on his current contract. Benji though believed he was entitled to a 4 year contract under a handshake agreement he had made with former CEO Stephen Humphries. If money wasn’t an issue, why did he turn down the increased contract?
“If it’s about loyalty, why wouldn’t I have left five years ago, when I had offers from other clubs?”
Much like this year’s contractual discussions, in 2008 Benji’s contract talks were being mostly aired in the media. During the 2008 World Cup he confided in some of his team mates that he was keen on the leaving Rugby League to pursue a career in Rugby Union. Former NRL boss David Gallop convinced Benji to stay in League after the entire offseason was dogged by ‘Benji to Union’ rumours. If he is loyal, why would he abandon not only his club, mates and fans but the game as well, for another code? The fact he had openly and seriously discussed this option raises doubts about his loyalty.
These seem very hypocritical and contradictory things to say, no doubt, but the thing is, I believe him when he said:
“I’m not a money-hungry, disloyal person with no integrity. If anything, I feel I’m the opposite.”
For some reason, Benji’s manager, Martin Tauber, felt it was the NRL’s fault for not doing enough to keep Benji in the game. Given that the sole purpose of existence for a player manager, in my view, is to parasitically leech money off players who work hard, like Benji, to do tasks they otherwise could do themselves, it seems apparent that a lot of what was said by Benji was actually Tauber's words. Player Managers do whatever they can to drive up the price of their player with no care in the world for the club or the game, only in their commission.
Tauber’s slight at the NRL was that of a man whose negotiation techniques are woeful and saw him get outplayed at his own game. For those who don’t know, Tauber was the man who had Tim Moltzen sign a contract with the Dragons while he was still contracted to the Tigers. That entire debacle was also played out in the middle and looked entirely like Tauber doing his level best to start a bidding war on Moltzen. He failed on that occasion as well.
I think Benji is quite simply bored and has lost the ability to motivate himself to keep playing. And for good reason, he’s achieved everything the game can to a Kiwi player, an NRL Premiership, representing your country, winning a World Cup, captaining your country, winning a Four Nations and earning the Golden Boot award for being the best player in the world.
Sadly, Benji will be remembered by some for these recent antics in the media.
But I don’t hate him.
How could I?
He’s Benji Marshall.