Benji Marshall will take over as Wests Tigers coach a year earlier than expected after the Wests Tigers have cut short Tim Sheens’ succession plan.
With the Tigers sitting last heading into the final three rounds and on track for a second straight wooden spoon there is concern at the club over the direction they’ve been heading under Sheens’ rebuild.
Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has confirmed the coaching restructure will happen at season’s end but insists the transition was initiated by Sheens’ management.
“I came back with a focus on creating stronger pathways and development programs,” Sheens said in a club statement issued on Wednesday afternoon.
“I am proud of the work accomplished by all involved in the pathways system and of the emerging local talent, in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
“I am extremely proud of what I have been able to do in transitioning Benji into the main role and wish him and the club all the success in the future.”
Rabbitohs assistant coach John Morris, a former Wests Tigers player, is tipped to join the coaching staff as Marshall’s deputy while David Furner is set to be moved on along with Sheens.
“I am humbled by Tim’s endorsement as the future and long-term head coach of Wests Tigers,” said Marshall. “To be the head coach of Wests Tigers has been a long-held dream of mine since retiring from playing.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to take on the role and I am indebted to Tim for all that he has taught me, both as a player and as an assistant coach.
“I know that I am ready to take on the role with all the support that the club has offered.”
Hagipantelis had earlier said it was “indeed regrettable that I find myself having to speak of these matters publicly” after word leaked out of Sheens’ abrupt exit.
“But there have been internal discussions about expediting the transition of Benji into the head coaching role which is something that was always contemplated within that two-year transition period.”
He denied anyone went behind Sheens’ back to punt him.
“It was following that outreach (from Orr) that these conversations were undertaken, all with Tim’s engagement and blessing,” Hagipantelis later told AAP. “Suggestions, which I’ve read, about us terminating or knifing Tim are demeaning to all involved.
“Tim was engaged for a particular purpose and that was to transition Benji. Tim feels that transition is complete and Benji is ready to step up.
“He takes the view that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and he takes the view that Benji is ready.”
Sheens had been general manager of football when he initially came back to the club two years ago and had been hoping to move back to a similar role.
Marshall was originally due to serve a two-year apprenticeship under Sheens before taking over as head coach in 2025 but that has now been fast-tracked to next season.
That five-year plan has now been scrapped with Marshall starting a season early but he remains under contract until the end of 2027.
The Tigers have a chance to secure a rare win on Saturday night at CommBank Stadium against a Dolphins team missing at least six regular first-graders due to injuries and suspension.
He will see out the rest of the season, bringing an end to a successful career which included three earlier premierships during his time at Canberra from 1989-94.
Sheens returned to the coaching helm at the Tigers this season a decade after the club’s 2005 premiership-winning mentor was initially sacked in acrimonious circumstances.
He was taking over after Michael Maguire had been axed midway through last year with Brett Kimmorley finishing the season as interim coach.
Marshall is inheriting a rebuilding roster which has failed to gain success this year despite the arrival of Api Koroisau, Isaiah Papali’i, John Bateman, David Klemmer and Charlie Staines.
Veteran halfback Luke Brooks is leaving for Manly next year with former Raiders playmaker Aidan Sezer returning from the Super League and Dragons young gun Jayden Sullivan set to form a new halves pairing.