Tim Sheens was a conspicuous absentee as the Wests Tigers celebrated their end-of-season awards night this week, suggesting things did not end well between the coach and club. Sheens was supposed to remain head coach at the Tigers in 2024, but the club decided to bring forward their succession plan and hand Benji Marshall the reins one year early.
Marshall has been working as Sheens' assistant coach this year, and was initially supposed to fulfil the same role in 2024. But the Tigers announced last month that Sheens will depart one year early so Marshall can take over from next season.
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The club said that Sheens had decided to step down of his own volition, but questions are starting to emerge about whether or not that is actually the case. The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Thursday night that Sheens snubbed the end-of-season presentation night, but had attended an 'old boys' function with some of his former Penrith Panthers teammates just days earlier.
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Sheens was even spotted wearing a Panthers cap during the event before Penrith's clash with the Cowboys last weekend. According to the SMH report, Tigers officials wanted Sheens to attend the presentation night, however he didn't.
Penrith great Royce Simmons, who previously worked under Sheens as an assistant coach at the Tigers, told the SMH he wasn't surprised Sheens snubbed the awards night considering how the club has treated him. “Why would you go?” Simmons said. “If you weren’t wanted at the club, how could you go to their presentation night?
“They sacked him. And I can only imagine how frustrated Tim is. It’s sad to see. He wasn’t given the opportunity to do what he wanted to do. You bring a coach back who has won a premiership, and is in the top bracket of coaches of all time, you look to his expertise, then you don’t use it. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Was Tim Sheens sacked or did he stand down for Benji?
Englishman Gareth Ellis, who was announced as a life member of the club during the awards night, made a point of thanking Sheens during a speech via video link. Last month, Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis denied claims Sheens was sacked, saying the club was approached by Sheens' manager Chris Orr to discuss a possible restructuring.
"It was following that outreach that these conversations were undertaken, all with Tim's engagement and blessing," Hagipantelis told AAP. "Tim has anointed Benji as ready to step up into the head coaching role. It's very amicable and professional as it should be. Suggestions, which I've read, about us terminating or knifing Tim are demeaning to all involved."
Meanwhile, rookie fullback Jahream Bula scooped three of the end-of-season awards, including the Kelly-Barnes medal for player of the year. He was also named players' player and rookie of the year.
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