Howdy “Hook” & Toddy and bye-bye Benji

Benji Marshall
Photo Credit; Getty Images/Cover Art

The NRL as a whole is an incredibly entertaining, yet also confusing product. That applies to it both on and off the field. Most recently we’ve seen Anthony Griffin and Todd Payten be appointed coaches of the Dragons and Cowboys respectively.

On one hand, Griffin won a solid 96 of his 183 games as head coach of both Penrith and Brisbane respectively. But on the other hand, he was also sacked by Penrith and proceeded to trade barbs with Penrith supremo Phil Gould in the aftermath of it all. “He hasn’t had his head in the fire for 20 years”.

As for Payten, he has earned plaudits from Rugby League critics all throughout the world for the tremendous work he’s done with a severely depleted Warriors side this season. One which has them just two victories outside of the Top Eight, an unthinkable feat at the start of the campaign. But on the other hand, the Warriors are literally the only first-grade team he’s been in charge of.

And for poor old, hard done by Benji Marshall, he led the Tigers to their lone Premiership in 2005. And now he’s been told that he’ll have to clear out of Concord at the conclusion of the season. I’ll be assessing what makes these respective decisions entertaining (good) and confusing (bad). Let’s tear right into this one.

Anthony Griffin

Good

“Hook” has his critics and rightfully so, but ultimately, on the whole, this is a top-notch appointment for the Red V.

For so long Dragons fans were forced to suffer under the stuttering, ugly regime of St George legend Paul McGregor. But now they get to see what a winning coach actually looks like.

He inherited the mess that Ivan Henjack had left at Brisbane and he once again turned the Red Hill-based club into a powerhouse. In his first season in charge, Brisbane finished 3rd and within a game of the Grand Final. And in his final season there, he helped them make the playoffs, despite him knowing that Wayne Bennett would be replacing him the following season… No matter how well he did.

So, if he’s given time, he will no doubt make the Dragons a serious contender once again, just like he did at the Broncos.

In his last full season at the foot of the mountains, he led Penrith to seventh place and in turn, the second week of the finals.

And the key skill he can translate from his time at the Panthers to the Dragons is his amazing player development ability. The likes of Moylan, Cleary, Peachey and Mansour were really able to flourish under his guidance. The likes of Saab, Lomax, Sailor and Ravalawa should really be able to develop and further their games under his tutelage. And if he can get Ben Hunt anywhere back to near his best form, then that’s just an awesome bonus as well. Hunt tended to play some great Footy under Griffin, during his stay at the Broncos.

Bad

During a heated exchange between himself and Phil Gould, Gould described him as very old-school. And as somebody who likes to do everything himself.

Griffin isn’t known as the greatest innovator of ideas, so if this is true and he proves to be stubborn, then his time at the Red V could be cut short a lot quicker then it should be.

Week after week, Mary couldn’t come up with anything new to get St George out of the hole they were in, so if Griffin is similar and the lethargic results start pouring in, he’ll be in trouble right quickly! And it will need to be all hands on deck to gift the Dragons a return to playing finals Footy, so that means everybody important at the club will need to be involved too heavily involved within the process of that.

If Gould’s words ring true, problems may not arise at first, but further, down the line, they could, which would make his seat as coach ridiculously hot.

Todd Payten

Good

The Warriors currently have 7 wins from 17 games this season. They are in tenth place. They are doing better than the Dragons, Sea Eagles, Titans, Cowboys, Broncos and Bulldogs. And to top things off, they’re just two wins out of eighth spot on the ladder!

A lot of that can be attributed to Payten and his hard-working attitude which has seen the club capture hearts all across Australia and their home country of New Zealand this campaign.

Unlike previous coaches who have presided over the Auckland-based side, he has a strong belief in his team. For example, this quote was taken after his sides gruelling and tight, 24-18 defeat to the Eels last week. “I believe we’re a finals team”. These words might not seem like much from the outside, but to a Warriors side, many of whom haven’t seen their family or friends in months, it means the world.

Now imagine if he could translate that hard-working, always believe in yourself attitude to a North Queensland squad with Homes (3 tries and 6 try assists from 9 games this season), Clifford (2 tries and 5 try assists this season), + the currently out Michael Morgan (a Premiership winner and constant rep player) and the currently out Taumalolo (a former Dally M Medal winner), as your spine. With the other quality player’s, they have surrounding them, he could well have them in contention for their second-ever Premiership.

Bad

The Warriors are the only side he’s been in charge of in the NRL. That’s not a good look for a club that’s trying to enter the finals once again after suffering a dismal year so far to date.

Trent Barrett flopped as an inexperienced coach at Manly. Seibold hadn’t been a head coach for all that long before he was given the axe in Brisbane. Ivan Cleary was given the boot from Penrith despite his credentials. Hasler likewise at Canterbury. And those are just some recent examples, looking back there’s a lot more.

Whatever category you fall into as an NRL coach, there’s a heap of pressure and crazy expectations that come with it. North Queensland failed to feature in the finals last season either and overall, as a club, are in fairly bad shape at the moment. I don’t believe he will succeed here given the multitude of factors just mentioned and that could do irreparable damage to his overall image and future as a head Rugby League coach.

Benji Marshall

Good

He is literally the lifeblood of the Wests Tigers Rugby League club. His iconic flick-pass helped them to win their only NRL Premiership way back in 2005.

People support the Tigers and go to Tigers games because of him. And apart from anything else, even at the ripe age of 35, he’s still in superb attacking form at the moment.

From just 13 games played this season, he has 2 tries and 13 try assists. He also has averages of 64m’s and 1.2 tackle busts per match. And just for good measure, he’s produced two 40/20’s.

Additionally, there’s no doubt he’d be on a fairly cap-friendly contract. So, what reason would Michael Maguire have not to keep him around for another season or two?

Looking at how blokes such as Brooks and Reynolds have performed for them this season, they should see it as a damn blessing that Marshall still wants anything at all to do with the club!

Bad

35 Years of age. And he ain’t getting any younger!

And, at this point, defensively, he offers little to nothing. So, the Tigers do have to weigh up if his defensive short-comings outweigh his attacking prowess? And it is a fair enough question given that Maguire is known for being a defensive-minded coach and Wests have been simply shocking at it this season. Last game alone they leaked 32 points to the struggling Sea Eagles. And their current PD of -11 doesn’t paint a great overall picture.

The question has been raised lately if Marshall being there, has perhaps held back Brooks? Benji dominates the ball thus limiting Brooks ability to impact the game. If the club believes Brooks is a long-term solution it makes sense for them to invest in his development over the short-term gains provided by Marshall.

Overall, these are three very entertaining yet also somewhat confusing moves.

In the case of Benji, it’s made entertaining as another NRL club might get to see him grace their colours for a season or two before he decides to hang them up, or potentially go to Europe.

How they all pan out remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure, they’ll no doubt just only add further fire to the already insane and amazing product that is the National Rugby League.

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