With the commencement of the NRL season upon us, rumors and speculation have arisen in regards to the future of Wests Tigers legend and co-captain Benji Marshall.
Having turned 35 in February, Marshall has stated publically that he will wait til the end of the season to make a decision on his playing future with the Tigers.
However, recent rumors have appeared linking Marshall to the Super League and while Benji has the right to exit the Tigers on his own terms whenever that may be, it is important to look at the possible replacement options Michael Maguire could consider if Marshall does decide to leave the club.
Option 1: Benji plays on in 2021
Even with the speculation and rumors surrounding the future of Marshall, there is every chance that the Tigers great will go for another bout in 2021 and if his body holds up with the physicality of the game, why wouldn’t he?
Marshall has proven that his age hasn’t affected his contribution to the team as he is still able to lead an offense with his crisp pass selection and leadership which is invaluable to a relatively young Tigers team.
As a legend of the club, Benji has also earnt the right to call time on his career in the NRL on his own terms whether that be at the end of 2020 or 2021.
Option 2: Josh Reynolds finally gets first crack at the 6 Jumper
There’s no arguing that Josh Reynolds has had to endure more than his fair share of bad luck since joining the Tigers in 2018.
A combination of injuries and false legal allegations have limited Reynolds ability to nail down the 6 jumper and since it looks like a possible reunion with the Bulldogs has fallen apart, perhaps 2021 is the best chance for Reynolds to prove that he still belongs in the NRL.
Having watched the opening two rounds where Reynolds played at 6, I thought he was a bit off the mark in terms of running and playmaking against the Dragons but showed against the Knights that he can still create offense taking on the line setting up Corey Thompson for a try and picking up a wayward offload to score himself.
The problem with Reynolds at 6 from an outsider looking in however is that it doesn’t seem Reynolds fits the way Michael Maguire wants his halves to play.
When you look at the South Sydney team Maguire won the competition with in 2014, Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary formed the halves pairing.
It can be argued that these two players greatest their ability to create for each other rather than for themselves.
They can create space for other players to score and kick their teams into great field position.
Although you cannot doubt Reynolds effort and ability, it is also hard to argue that his skill as a playmaker and kicker will need to improve if he wants to replace Marshall in 2021.
Option 3: Billy Walters slots into Five-Eighth
During the round 2 loss to the Knights, Billy Walters spent time at Five-Eight where he looked much more comfortable in attack.
Walters established himself as one of the best Five-Eighths during his time in the Queensland Cup and might be the answer to the 6 dilemma if Marshall decides to leave the Tigers.
Maguire has a history of giving late bloomers chances in the NRL having signed Cody Walker from the Queensland Cup and it’s reasonable to believe the Tigers coach could do the same with Walters.
The big question for Walters at 6 is whether or not he can translate the way he played in the Queensland Cup to the NRL as his straight and direct running along with his strong defense could potentially fit very well with Brooks and the way Maguire wants to play.
If I was to put money on it and assuming that Adam Doueihi makes the transition to fullback, Tigers fans should expect to see Walters at 6 if Marshall chooses to leave the club.
Option 4: Jock Madden becomes the game manager
Joining the club in 2018, Jock Madden would be the ideal replacement for Benji Marshall due to his age and his potential to become the team’s primary kicking option.
Madden as a game managing 6 would allow Luke Brooks to run the ball more off the cuff which is where he excels.
A playmaker that has drawn similarities to Adam Reynolds, there is no doubt Jock Madden has the skill set to fit into the attacking system that Maguire is trying to implement at Wests Tigers.
The problem with this option is that with no reserve grade on the cards at the moment this season, Madden is missing an entire year of development which could negatively impact the young playmaker in terms of being first grade ready when Benji moves on.
Hopefully, Madden gets a chance to prove himself in first grade some time down the line because I have no doubt he has the potential to become a very valuable player for the Tigers moving forward.
Option 5: Adam Doueihi returns to his natural position
Although signed to play fullback, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Adam Doueihi could find himself in the number 6 jersey replacing Benji Marshall.
Doueihi has spent most of his career in the halves and would be very dangerous in attack due to his size.
The young playmaker would also greatly benefit from the crackdown on the wrestle and the reduction of the interchange to 6 as these rules will allow lighter players like Doueihi to take advantage of the fatigue especially around the middle of the field.
I have high hopes however that Adam Doueihi will prove to be the Tigers long term solution to the Fullback position due to the fact that there aren’t many realistic number 1 options available to the Tigers if they choose to move Doueihi to Five-Eighth.
Option 6: The Tigers hit the open market
As the Salary cap currently stands, it is unclear how much cap space the Tigers have available to them with the big contracts of Reynolds, Packer and Mbye still on the books for the next few years.
However, if the Tigers have the cap space, there is a very strong group of playmakers coming off contract at the end of 2021 that the club should consider.
Both Jake Clifford and Scott Drinkwater come off-contract together at the end of 2021 and with Michael Morgan being the Captain and the halfback of the club, the Cowboys can’t keep both playmakers.
Clifford in his short time in the NRL has shown that he has the potential to play for Queensland and would be a great signing for the Tigers if he becomes available.
Signing Scott Drinkwater on the other hand would also give the Tigers great flexibility as he can play at fullback or Five-Eighth.
Many people forget that Drinkwater was picked to be the replacement to Billy Slater at the Storm before a pec injury sidelined him allowing Ryan Papenhuyzen to take the spot.
A similar situation is also occurring in Penrith with Matt Burton and Jarome Luai coming off-contract at the end of 2021 meaning that the Tigers can put forward an offer on November 1stof this year.
Matt Burton is a future superstar so I don’t expect him to be leaving Penrith any time soon but the argument can be made that Luai combines better with Nathan Cleary which is why the Samoan International has started the year at 6.
Either one of the two players would make a great replacement for Benji Marshall and similarly to the Cowboys, Penrith can’t keep both of them.
Depending on what marshal decides to do, the Tigers could resign Kiwi Captain for 2021 and go hard on the open market for either Jake Clifford or Matt Burton for 2022.
Talented young play-makers such as Cooper Johns and Lachlan Lamb are also off contract at the end of 2020 if Benji decides he wants to retire or go to Super League.
There were rumors going around last season that many of the senior members of the Roosters squad thought that Lachlan Lamb should have been the successor to Cooper Cronk rather than Kyle Flanagan so it is clear that Lamb has plenty of up-side.
Cooper Johns also has big wraps coming out of Melbourne having played a pivotal role in the Sunshine Coast Falcons impressive season in 2019.
It’s been stated that Johns has the ability to follow in his dad and Uncle’s footsteps in becoming an elite NRL player and would fit in well to Michael Maguire’s attacking structures.
Image: News Corp Australia