THE working relationship between Wests Tigers superstar Benji Marshall and coach Mick Potter is inching closer to breaking point.
For the sake of the team and on a professional level, the pair communicate, but The Sunday Telegraph has been told it is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately for the long-term future of the club.
Despite some gutsy wins over the course of the last month with an injury-depleted roster, Potter is fighting to save his job beyond this year.
The first-year Tigers coach is signed until the end of next season but The Sunday Telegraph has been told Tigers directors have already discussed alternative options, including Trent Barrett, Matt Parish and current assistant Steve Georgallis.
Potter’s biggest call as head coach was axing Marshall to the bench in round 10 leading into the South Sydney match, when the Tigers were hammered 54-10 by the leaders.
Over the course of the last six weeks, Marshall has responded the way champions do.
Without being in career-best, scintillating form, the Tigers premiership-winning pivot has shown tremendous leadership qualities in an injury-depleted, relatively inexperienced side.
When The Sunday Telegraph telephoned Potter about the situation with Marshall, the Tigers coach was surprised to learn of the development.
“I don’t agree. What you’re saying, I don’t think that’s accurate. From my end there’s no issues,” Potter said.
“After being benched he’s responded in everything he’s done, like a champion does. I’m comfortable with where Benji and I are at.”
But The Sunday Telegraph has been assured there is still an issue dating back to when Potter made the call to drop his five-eighth to the bench.
The Marshall issue is only one element as to why Potter is now facing a fight to see out the final year of his contract. The two-time Dally M Medal winner and champion Canterbury and St George fullback is one of rugby league’s true gentleman. It’s a tough call from the Tigers but there is an element at the club that don’t believe his appointment has worked.
The issue for the Tigers if they do opt to go another direction at the end of the season will be resolving a suitable severance package with Potter.
Already, they are still paying sacked coach Tim Sheens his full monthly salary at a time when the club is under increasing financial pressure. Up until a month ago, Potter’s immediate future beyond this season got off to a shaky start when the club lost seven in a row, including a 40-4 hammering by the Bulldogs and a 30-6 loss against the Sharks.
But gutsy wins against North Queensland, Penrith and the Raiders have bought him some time and in fairness, the rookie coach has walked into a political nightmare at the Tigers.
There’s the split board between Balmain and Western Suburbs directors, CEO Stephen Humphreys walked away from the helm last month and football manager Warren McDonnell has been demoted from managing the club’s top 25 roster to looking after emerging junior talent.
Adding to the strained situation is the contract wrangle the Tigers have got themselves into with Marshall’s agent Martin Tauber.
Tauber maintains previous CEO Stephen Humphreys gave him a verbal guarantee Marshall would be rewarded with an upgraded contract and a two-year extension until the end of 2017.
But acting Tigers boss Grant Mayer, on the instructions of the club’s board, has instead opted to honour the agreement to increase Marshall’s current contract but refrain from extending it for a further two years.
To be fair, on form this season and with rookie halves Curtis Sironen, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses coming through the ranks, it’s the right call for the Tigers.
Marshall is still a superstar player who is one of the most recognisable faces in the game and a wonderful figurehead at the Tigers club.
Commercially, he is one of the faces of the Tigers and who better to show Sironen, Brooks and Moses the ropes.
Another Hooper article :crazy