The story that doesn’t fit in with all the back-slapping about Benji Marshall’s appointment as Wests Tigers head coach from 2025 is a secret second approach to Cameron Ciraldo.
Just days before the spin went into overdrive to try and take attention away from the farcical manner in which their favourite son was catapulted into the NRL’s most poisonous position, the Tigers went back to Panthers assistant Ciraldo despite his snubbing of the club only weeks before.
And don’t think Tim Sheens will be at the Tigers for the long haul either: he has told friends of a desire to live in England.
The “Tigerish” manner in which all of this happened has been lost in the feel-good story that Marshall is back, and with his old mate Robbie Farah at his side. The Tigers first appointed Sheens to work on pathways and oversee former coach Michael Maguire. Then Sheens sacked Maguire and declared Ciraldo the man the Tigers wanted. They missed out on him and it became evident Sheens would be willing to end his worldwide search and coach himself.
The spin to soften that blow started with Marshall going public to say what a good coach Sheens would be, followed up with the same from other Sheens supporters to prepare everyone for what was coming next. On Monday, colleague Michael Chammas broke the story that Sheens had the job. The man who sacked Maguire either appointed himself or was appointed to coach after a decade out of the NRL.
Before the deal was announced with Marshall, a conversation was had with Ciraldo to see if he wanted to sign on for two years under Sheens, followed by three as head coach. He politely declined.
Now, here is where it gets really odd. A lunch with News Corp journalists is being credited as the catalyst for the Sheens-Marshall dream team. The last time a media company – Fox Sports – worked with the club it was on the documentary Wild Wests: Tales From Tiger Town, which virtually ensured Maguire would be sacked as the club was portrayed as leaderless.
Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo knocked back Wests Tigers.Credit:Getty
The News Corp role would be great for the Tigers: it means they will get the favourable media they have been craving as News Corp journalists can’t be too critical because it was their idea.
Imagine if Sheens flounders for two years and finds the soul-destroying task of coaching the Tigers to be too much? He might be saved from the News Corp blowtorch – as may chief executive Justin Pascoe and the board. But, if it goes well, the Tigers hierarchy can’t take credit, because it wasn’t their idea.
Marshall will certainly appeal to players. Having interviewed countless players about who they admired growing up, the most popular answer by far for backs is Marshall. Hopefully that will translate into recruitment.
Marshall’s toughness and determination are also overlooked. He came back from five shoulder reconstructions. If he can also utilise his communication skills and years of experience, he will have a fighting chance of success.
And word out of the Tigers is that David Furner has done a long-term deal, to be their fourth coach – the only one with recent NRL experience.
Ben Hunt’s greatest on-field moment has finally buried the demons of his darkest. Standing on Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night after his career-defining performance in the Origin decider, Hunt delivered a message of resilience that transcends sport.
“It’s not lost on me,” he said as I talked to him on the field. “It’s a full circle I suppose.”
Hunt waited nearly seven years to put his mistake in the 2015 grand final behind him. And, ironically, it was his hands that were the key. He did it with a series-sealing catch of a Nathan Cleary kick in the dying minutes of Queensland’s 22-12 win in the decider.
“I know what people have said about what happened then  and I know what just happened now,” he said as he watched one of his sons run around on the field, having just emerged from an embrace with wife Bridget.
“This is great for the team, but for us, for Ben, this is his greatest win and to do that on this field,” Bridget said. “I know what people will say. He has caught 1000 kicks since that night, but it did really mean something to catch that and score in such a big game. He has really come into his own over the last two years. I’m really proud of him and the strength he has shown.”
Hunt’s face looked like it was going to split he was smiling so hard.
“It’s been some ups and downs for sure,” he said. “But this is definitely going to be one that I remember for the rest of my life. It’s just amazing. It’s hard to describe. It feels especially significant to get to share it with my family here. It’s unreal.
“The lows and the highs. I know what it is like and I’ve been through all of that. It is what can happen in rugby league, isn’t it. You’ve just got to keep working hard and doing all the little things; keep putting yourself out there and things will turn for you.”
Cam’s living for now
Cameron Murray’s first-minute Origin knockout sent shockwaves through Redfern. However, the man himself is going to play his style with no consideration for his future health. While the vast majority of people loved the brutal opening to the Origin series decider, it was a nightmare for the game’s bosses, who are panicked about concussions. Murray’s attitude is that of a gladiator, and concerns about his body and ongoing health were lost in the drama of the next 79 minutes.
The number of concussions and injuries he has suffered recently is something I spoke to him at length about in the lead-up to the decider. I asked him if he worried about the 40-year-old Murray. His answer will please Souths, but worry the game’s bosses.
“I’ll worry about that person then,” he said. “I thought about it a little bit, and there’s been a lot of talk about, you know, conserving me … trying to extend my career.
“I just think when I go out with the mindset of what my life’s gonna be like in 10 or 15 years’ time, then I’m not giving you 100 per cent now. And I just can’t play like that. So I just gotta be in the here and now. I don’t think I’m doing myself an injustice bashing myself up, and people can have outside opinions about what I’m going to look like or whatever in 20 years time, and if they think that I’m going too hard or whatever but, at the end of the day, I think I’d be doing an injustice and I wouldn’t be giving my all for myself and my teammates if I wasn’t just going out there and doing my best.”
ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys mixes with the punter at Origin III.
Man of the people
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys may be on the nose with some sections of the game but there is no questioning what the punters think. PVL was mobbed as he walked down Caxton Street in the lead-up to Origin III. The Queen’s confidante is clearly a man of the people.
Cameron Smith, James Bracey and the floor crew on Channel Nine’s post-game show were left stunned late on Friday night when Sonny Bill Williams and Paul Gallen launched into each other on air about their inability to do a deal to set up a fight.
Smith was caught in the middle as the pair went hard, and had to watch as they forgot they were on air. Anyone who thought it was staged didn’t see what happened off air as the pair were involved in an ongoing angry exchange during the commercial break.
Sonny Bill Williams and Paul Gallen. Credit:AAP/Christopher Pearce
After the show, SBW went to say goodbye to Gallen and then they launched into each other again after not saying a word to each other for the last two segments on air. They were behind the cameras when that happened, but the cameras swung around to film it. They were too involved in the verbal to notice.
SBW surprised Gallen on air by saying there was a deal that was ready for him to sign: a 60:40 split in SBW’s favour.
Gallen knew nothing of it until after the argument and claims the offer was put to Williams’ manager, Khoder Nasser, without his authority. SBW snapped because he is sick of Gallen saying he won’t fight him. He is very keen to get in the ring but he won’t fight on a 50:50 split. Gallen says he has retired.
Heaven and Trell
Souths are about to sit down with Latrell Mitchell to talk about an upgraded and extended contract. The initial plan is for a three-year, big-money deal.
Mitchell showed just what the club means to him by opting out of State of Origin to give Souths his full attention. And the club backed him by sending him to the US to get the best possible care for his hamstring injury.
If ever there was a good fit, it’s South Sydney and Latrell.
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