Benji Marshall's growing influence at the Wests Tigers has been highlighted by the club's two biggest off-season deals and an eye-opening departure at the NRL club, according to veteran league reporter Brent Read. The Tigers pulled off the biggest move of the off-season after agreeing a five-year, $6 million deal with Penrith's three-time premiership-winner Jarome Luai - albeit from 2025.
Marshall was instrumental in the Tigers' pursuit of Luai and also the deal to bring former Melbourne Storm premiership centre Justin Olam to the club for the 2024 season. The Tigers agreed to part ways with young gun forward Shawn Blore in exchange for the services of Olam, who appeared to fall out of favour with Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy last season.
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The Tigers have also made significant change to their board and backroom staff in what will be Marshall's first full season in charge of the club, having taken over from Tim Sheens at the end of last season. Head of recruitment Scott Fulton - who was appointed by former CEO Justin Pascoe without Sheens' knowledge - was sensationally let go by the club this month - less than nine months after being appointed.
Fulton and Marshall reportedly clashed over the types of players the Tigers should be looking at recruiting. The former recruitment manager at Manly - Fulton was instrumental in bringing Sea Eagles young guns Latu and Samuela Fainu to the joint venture club. He also played a major role in signing another playmaker in Jayden Sullivan.
Benji Marshall's influence growing at Wests Tigers
Fulton's unceremonious exit from the Tigers, coupled with the deals to get Luai and Olam across the line at the Tigers, have demonstrated that Marshall is pulling the strings at the club now. The Australian's Read says Luai was the rookie coach's "personal target" and that his signing is a telling statement of intent from the club great and a sign of his growing power.
“Benji is the man behind the wheel there now and Benji made Jarome Luai his personal target,” Read said on Triple M. “Benji wanted Justin Olam, Benji got him. Benji was off with Scott Fulton, Scott Fulton has now left the club. I think this club has laid a marker down, they’re going to put everything they can behind Benji and I don’t think the changes are over yet.”
Read predicts it will be a massive year for a number of the Tigers' playmakers in the race to be named Luai's halves partner, with Aidan Sezer only joining the club on a one-year deal - presumably in a holding role until Luai arrives in 2025. “Obviously with Jarome Luai arriving in 12 months’ time they went out and signed a whole lot of halves, who were brought in mainly by Scott Fulton when you’re talking Jayden Sullivan and Latu Fainu and I think if you look at it, there’s not enough room for four of them with Lachie Galvin when Jarome Luai gets there in 12 months’ time,” Read added.
“So those guys are going to have 12 months to show Benji what they can do and then I think down the track in 12 months’ time you’ll see some movement again. A really significant time for the Tigers and I think Benji has made the impact they were hoping he’d make. Landing Jarome is huge for them.”
Luai is back in pre-season training with his Panthers teammates after shoulder surgery towards the end of last year, and is hopeful of making an earlier-than-expected return to play in next month’s World Club Challenge against Wigan. Luai says despite agreeing to join the Tigers, he is completely focused and committed to the Panthers in 2024, with teammates determined to send the five-eighth out a winner.
“He has still been his loud self and been the pest he is. I personally haven’t seen anything different from Jarome this year,” Sunia Turuva said about Luai. “The boys would love that for him, we just gotta try and make sure we finish on a good note for him."
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