All eyes on Benji as Tigers tackle Warriors
One impediment has been dealt with now State of Origin is over, but the Wests Tigers must now handle the aftermath of Benji Marshall's decision to quit the club and code following a contractual dispute.
Marshall is always a focal point of a Wests Tigers performance and the scrutiny will be intensified at Leichhardt Oval tonight when the former Kiwis captain faces the music - or the dissenting voices of his club's faithful.
The 28-year-old's reported personality clash with coach Mick Potter and disappointment with a new management structure he claims reneged on a A$1 million (NZ$1.2m) per season contract upgrade means rugby beckons in Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne or Japan.
Marshall's attitude will be monitored as much as his famed, though fluctuating, skill set when the Wests Tigers strive to end the season unbeaten at Leichhardt - and keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
The 193-game club icon certainly talked a good game during a video message he made for fans yesterday.
He would not delve into the specific reasons for seeking a release two years before his contract expires but was conciliatory towards club officials and anxious for fans to support him.
"I know some people are not going to be happy and some people will be happy to see me go.
"I'm committed to making sure the next eight weeks are the best eight weeks I can have to try and make the semis.
"We're going to need your support and I'm going to need your support and respect. I have to move on from this decision and so does everyone else," he said.
Potter was optimistic Marshall would be determined to sign off in style.
"I had a couple of real good chats with him, I think he'll do the job. It's up to Benji how he performs, everyone knows what a champion player he can be."
The first-year NRL coach admitted his call to name Marshall on the bench for the round 10 clash with South Sydney probably harmed his relationship with the club's marquee player, but was unrepentant and insisted the pair were on good terms.
"He's in my office just about every session. For me, there's no real issue. I don't have to be Benji's best friend, it's not imperative that I am but I don't think there's a problem there."
Potter said he tried to convince Marshall to stay but accepted his determination to leave when the club tabled an unsuitable offer.
He also hoped the supporters would accept Marshall's impending departure with dignity.
"I think they fans will appreciate who he is and what's done for Wests Tigers and cheer him on. Here at Leichhardt people are pretty loyal and I'd imagine they're going to support him," he said.
Meanwhile, although Marshall's effort will be scrutinised, the ability of Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods to back up from Wednesday night's Origin decider is another critical factor as they face a Warriors side refreshed by their second bye.
New South Wales captain and hooker Farah put in an 80-minute shift at ANZ Stadium but starting prop Aaron Woods managed only four hit-ups for 22-metres.
He called in sick yesterday while Farah was understandably exempt from training.
Both are expected to start tonight in a round 19 fixture that has practically been an afterthought this week, though not for a wary Potter.
"Their [the Warriors'] ability to offload the ball is good. It's that knack of being able to get a ball away when it appears they're on the ground and all of a sudden the ball pops up and they're in a second phase of play. It burns you of energy. It's going to be a tough day for us."
Wests Tigers: James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona, Benji Marshall, Curtis Sironen, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah, Adam Blair, Liam Fulton, Bodene Thompson, Sauaso Sue. Interchange: Ava Seumanufagai, Jack Buchanan, Ben Murdoch-Masilia, Braith Anasta, Shaun Spence (18th man).
NZ Warriors: Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei,Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (captain), Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Charlie Gubb, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux, Ngani Laumape, Russell Packer, Suaia Matagi (three to be omitted)