The interview was only 10 minutes old when Tim Sheens casually dropped a line that’s sure to excite long-suffering Wests Tigers fans.
“The kids here are outstanding,” said the Tigers’ new head coach herald. “They’re better than I’ve seen them in this club.”
It’s a big call from a man who got Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah through before overseeing the development of James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses in the final days of his first stint at the club. But there are high hopes for a plethora of tiger cubs led by Justin Matamua, Fonua Pole, Kitione Kautoga, Sione Vaihu, Solomon Saukuru, Tuki Simpkins, Kit Laulilii, Luke Laulilii, Tallyn De Silva, Lachlan Galvin and Michael Tannous.
The tigers shamelessly turn back the clock. They kind of picked up a new high-tech center of excellence and built it in the mid-2000s.
Marshall and Farah call the shots down the corridor. And the same philosophy that launched the Tigers to Premiership glory in 2005 is being applied to a group of players who have largely forgotten what success looks like.
One thing players coached by Sheens will tell you is that the coach requires each person to play two positions. That’s why hooker Jake Simpkin has been training as a halfback throughout the summer and fullback Daine Laurie at halftimes.
New signing David Klemmer says he feels like a kid again and is learning to play a kind of football that many modern players have had to forget at the top tier.
“Why shouldn’t it be, mate?” Sheens fires back.
“We use a soccer ball to score tries. Then why the hell are they here? Our philosophy is that we want to put points on the board. Robbie, Benji and I are the same in that regard.
“If you score, you get the ball back. And if you have the ball, they technically can’t score unless you throw an intercept or stupidly drop the ball. The rule book says score more points than your opponent… and I like to stick to the rule book.”
Over the past decade, the Wests Tigers have experienced a seemingly never-ending cycle of hope that has quickly given way to disappointment.
There was the promise of the Big Four era – Tedesco, Moses, Luke Brooks and Aaron Woods. Then Ivan Cleary’s bus rolled out of town as fast as it had come in, luring the young bus back to the Panthers. Cleary was replaced with Michael Maguire’s strangling style of football that seemed to choke his own team.
Api Koroisau, John Bateman, Isaiah Papali’i and Klemmer – along with Sheens, Marshall and Farah – are the new faces of the club’s fourth rebuild.
“When I was manager of rugby league, before I even became a coach, I pointed out that in three years this club would make a big difference,” Sheens said.
“And don’t just wait three years to do it, it’ll go all the way around the corner. We have a five year plan. It’s not a big coaching change, just a transfer.
“Benji already has a say in who comes into the club. There will be no ‘oh I want to get rid of this player because it’s not my team’ from Benji.”
The subtle rift at his predecessor speaks to the frustration felt by many at the Wests Tigers, who were fed up with Maguire privately blaming the squad for his underwhelming four years at the helm.
Sheens recently got Maguire telling people the veteran coach would come home to take his job, a notion Sheens firmly refuted.
“You know different, and I know different,” Sheens said. “And if I came for his job, I would have a five-year contract and I don’t have one. That’s not the case. I’m a bit disappointed there.
“It didn’t work out for Madge but to say I didn’t particularly want the job as you know very well who I was chasing [Cameron Ciraldo]and was criticized for offering it [a five-year contract]. It’s funny that he’s been with the Bulldogs for five years now, but whatever.”
While the Tigers went all-in for Ciraldo, the disappointment was quickly tempered by the excitement surrounding the Sheens-Marshall package deal.
The reality of the situation is that Sheens handed Marshall, who was only 12 months into retirement, an NRL head coaching job as of 2025 without ever observing him a day in his life as a coach.
It’s a gamble in everyone’s books. But Sheens is convinced his protégé has what it takes to make it as a coach.
“He’s going to kill it,” Sheens said. “He’ll make it, simple as that. There’s just no doubt. “In two years he will be ready to take it easy. In fact, I reckon I’ll have to take care of my back in 12 months.”
When Marshall sat down with Sheens to audition for the job that would always be just Ciraldo’s job until he left the one-horse race, the meeting was just minutes before Sheens found his former star fifth ready was.
Marshall, who had made a successful transition from gamer to media commentator in his roles for Triple M and Fox League, had no more goals.
“The first thing Benji said was that even though he was making good money and working with you guys in the media, he didn’t get any satisfaction from it,” Sheens said.
“The satisfaction he gets now, sitting around and seeing him talking and chatting with players, coaching them and working with them. You should see it, they just gather around him. You listen to everything he says. And he has the background to say, “Well, I did it.” He’s benefiting a lot from it and so is Robbie.”
“I’ve always said they’re too smart for their own good. You could never bluff them. You had to be smart to get those two kids to show you respect because they don’t suffer from fools, these boys.
“Basically, I’m an interim coach. And I’m happy about that. I still have my word. I still have the big slugger, but at the end of the day if they want to run with something and I’m happy with it, I let them run with it because it teaches them what to do.”
One of the main tasks of 2023 will be for Marshall and Farah to unlock halfback Luke Brooks. The much-maligned halfback, who has struggled to fit into Maguire’s game plan, is entering the final season of his lucrative deal.
“The first thing you do is set up a game plan that he’s involved in and play offensively on his best side of the field, which is where he plays – the left touchline, with him as a halfback,” Sheens said.
“People are into him and into him and into him. Media… he seems to be a whipping boy. He survived that very well. Benji and I are working really hard with the whole spine, not just him, the whole spine to finally get a combo because the club hasn’t really committed to a combo in a while.
“You can’t expect him to win every game for you. Everyone seems to think that’s the only thing a good halfback can do. Granted, there’s a lot of pressure on the pivots, but it’s not just the seven.
“To say that the No. 7 rules the game is not always true. A #9 and a #6 a #1 is even more important. If you have a good team, play with 14 men. That means your full-back pops up everywhere. If not, then you play with 12 men.”
Playing with 13 men, let alone 14, has often been a struggle for the Wests Tigers.
“I promise you, if we lose games, we won’t get beaten,” Sheens says.
“People say, ‘Oh, what does that mean?’ That means we’re going to try until the end of the game.”
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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/the-best-i-ve-ever-seen-inside-sheens-and-marshall-s-tigers-revolution-20230113-p5ccdy.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport In Tim Sheen and Benji Marshall’s West Tigers Revolution