Benji Marshall.
Benji Marshall has no time for nostalgia ahead of going head-to-head with mentor Wayne Bennett. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Shades of Wayne as Benji’s Tigers face Dolphins test

April 5, 2024

Benji Marshall may be reluctant to wax lyrical about his relationship with Wayne Bennett but there is little doubt the hallmarks of the supercoach have rubbed off on his one-time apprentice.

Fresh off two-straight wins, Marshall’s Wests Tigers head to Suncorp Stadium on Saturday to face a Dolphins side coached by Bennett and managed on field by his younger brother, hooker Jeremy Marshall-King.

It’s the first time Marshall has officially coached against Bennett, whom the Tigers coach credits for reviving his playing career with stints at Brisbane and South Sydney.

Benji Marshall and Wayne Bennett.
 Benji Marshall and Wayne Bennett discuss tactics during a Broncos training session in 2017. Image by Albert Perez/AAP PHOTOS 

Marshall, however, was loath to get drawn into talking chapter and verse about Bennett’s influence on his career.

“The challenge is not with Wayne. It’s team v team,” Marshall said.

“My focus has been on what’s best for our team and what we need to do this week. I haven’t thought about Wayne once.”

Ditto, Bennett.

“There will be no texts this week,” the Dolphins coach said on Friday.

“I’m not coaching against Benji, I’m coaching against Wests Tigers.

“He’s got a job to do and I have got a job to do and nothing will interfere with our friendship.”

It is increasingly obvious, though, that as he influenced Benji Marshall the player, Bennett’s magical touch is filtering through to Benji Marshall the NRL head coach.

Benji Marshall.
 Benji Marshall giving some of his forwards advise at a Tigers training session. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

At Friday’s press conference Marshall displayed all the characteristics that have been part of Bennett’s oft-frosty media relations through his five decades in the coaching hotseat.

Marshall dead-batted some questions, met others with his trademark charm and, at times, showed his prickly side.

He took particular umbrage with a question about his habit of a pre-game round of golf.

Given the first-year head coach found time to squeeze in 18 holes prior to the Tigers’ wins over Cronulla and Parramatta, a hit on the links shapes as a positive pre-game ritual.

“I’m a little bit over the talk about me playing golf,” Marshall said.

“I have no bearing on the result of the game with what I do before the game with my preparation but what I will say is everyone’s preparation is different.

“Whatever helps you do your job to the best of your ability is up to you.”

He has even adopted Bennett’s dead-pan expression.

While assistant coach Robbie Farah was jumping for joy during the Tigers’ last-gasp 17-16 win over Parramatta on Easter Monday, Marshall remained unchanged.

“I might look stony-faced but on the inside it is a different story,” Marshall said.

“I don’t really show a lot of emotion up in the box but at the end of the game, once the result went our way, I couldn’t help but feel excited for the guys that we got the win.”

Marshall insists he would feel “fake” if he tried to act like any of his previous coaches as he prepares to coach against Bennett and his brother for the first time.

Jeremy Marshall-King.
 Dolphins hooker Jeremy Marshall-King slings out a pass from dummy-half. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS 

Former St George coach Brian Smith was the last to pit his wits against a sibling when he faced an Illawarra side featuring brother Tony in 1991.

If the Tigers win on Saturday it will be the first time the club has won three straight NRL games since 2018, but Marshall, just like Bennett has so often done over the years, was quick to pump the brakes.

“I think our fans would be excited but we’ve got to win it first, we’re not talking about winning three in a row,” he said.