'Benchie' Benji Marshall destined for Mt Smart?
Benji Marshall a Warrior? The slim prospect of the out-of-sorts Wests Tigers star teaming up with fellow Kiwi Shaun Johnson has box office gold written all over it for the Auckland-based club.
That despite Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah playing a straight bat to talk coming out of Australia.
The benching of Marshall for Friday night's game against the Rabbitohs has intensified talk that the playmaker is on the outer with coach Mick Potter at the struggling club. Marshall is reportedly negotiating a four-year, $4 million extension to his contract, but his patchy form will have Tigers' bosses weighing up whether they splash the cash on an ageing star, or take a punt on youth.
Potter was sticking to the company line.
"I think Benji wants to ultimately stay at the Tigers for the rest of his career," he said. "I want him to and I think quite a lot of other people do as well." Then why bench one of the guys who can get the injury-ravaged team out of their NRL hole, Mick?
But even if the Warriors offered a lucrative deal to the standoff, it would be a hard sell to get him across the ditch.
Marshall is the face of the Balmain and Western Suburbs merger. He is the side's marquee player, the talisman of the once unfashionable club, and the force behind its only NRL premiership in 2005. Marshall means to the Wests Tigers what Manu Vatuvei means to the Warriors. Time will tell if the Warriors can get this Tiger to change his stripes.
Meanwhile, let's hope Matt Elliott's little chat last week with NRL referees boss Daniel Anderson has appeased the Warriors coach.
If it's true that sports teams sing when they're winning, it's equally valid that they tend to whinge when they're losing.
Over the last month or so, Elliott hasn't been shy in giving a serve to NRL match officials over what he sees as unfair calls that cost his team. Forward passes before tries, players taken out, 40-20s not given - Elliott has been quick to point out what he sees as decisions that have haunted a side who have yet to make winning a habit.
The "we wuz robbed" defence is one of the classics. Coaches have always tried to deflect blame when their team loses. Still, when Elliott went toe-to-toe with refs boss Anderson it would have been a hard sell to convince him that the refs favour other teams over the Warriors. The numbers just don't stack up. Up until last night's game against the Panthers, the Warriors were awarded 50 penalties, while conceding 51. Not exactly playing favourites is it?
And while we're crunching the numbers, there is one stat that deserves Elliott's attention. In the second halves of games this season, not including the Panthers match, the Warriors have leaked 124 points. Compare that to the 81 they've scored and you get a sense that match officials are not the issue.
Of the four games where they've been leading or level at halftime, they've only won once, against the Titans.
It's always easy to blame the refs, but sometimes the answer lies closer to home.
- Todd Murray is Fairfax Sundays sports editor