There are many qualities that characterise today's consummately professional NRL player – talent is a standout, as is discipline, diligence and a thirst for hard work. However, when contemplating the spectacle that will be on display this round, one of the features I am most looking forward to is the ongoing boost to the Wests Tigers' performance triggered by skipper Robbie Farah's recent re-signing.
For me, the intangibles of footy contribute just as much to the magic on the field as the meticulous attacking and impenetrable defence that we have been treated to recently. Farah's loyalty to the Tigers inspires those of us who write about it; it inspires Tigers fans who 'get' it; it inspires the broader footy public who devour news of it; and it inspires magnificently his teammates who seemed last week to be transformed by it.
The Sea Eagles won't hand Farah another man-of-the-match opportunity on a platter, but they have their work ahead of them. Shutting down the imposing playmaker on a five-day turnaround, without Richie Fa'aoso's physicality and needing a vast improvement in execution will be a challenge well worth heading up to Bluetongue Stadium to witness.
Loyalty is more than longevity – the trepidation prevailing around the Shire in relation to Todd Carney's re-signing proves that. A relative 'newcomer', the bond forged between the State of Origin playmaker and his third club is obviously a formidable one. In racing parlance, what a quinella that would be: Flanno's return and Carney's re-signing! The Dragons, keen to return to a level, non-jinxed playing field, would justifiably be particularly wary of a Sharks outfit further buoyed by these developments.
Interestingly, Steve Price is focusing on a different quality to steer the Dragons to their first win this season – unity. Head to Sharks Stadium on Saturday night to see the response to his call for the players and coaches to unite more effectively. This is the only way, Price advocates, to tackle the Dragons poor start to the season, and their consistently poor second-half performances.
Wherever their club loyalties lie, our current players are indeed very fine ambassadors and very loyal servants of our great game.
Professional footballers, like us all, have to exercise sound judgment when determining the course of their sometimes brief careers. Competing and conflicting priorities, obligations and responsibilities jostle to influence the outcome of these business decisions. Cognisant of this context, it explains why so many of us were holding our collective breath hoping Jarryd Hayne would re-sign with the Eels. The rampaging Roosters would surely have been stronger favourites to outlast the refocused and better-disciplined Eels on Monday night before Hayne's re-signing with the gold-and-blues through 2015. It adds zest to the Monday night clash and confirms the loyalty that has so impressed Ricky Stuart.
The Cowboys undoubtedly were euphoric to see JT's loyalty translated into action on March 11 when he signed on for four more years in Townsville, but since then have failed to convert their euphoria into on-field achievement. They get their next chance to impress on Monday night in Auckland, where they will meet a Warriors line-up unfortunately still missing more stars than they are welcoming back. With injuries impacting their list so savagely, the Warriors should benefit from their 10-day turnaround, and being at home at Mt Smart for the first time this year will ensure that the Cowboys don't have it all their own way.
Fans impress us mightily with their blind loyalty, but that's a luxury not all players can enjoy. The praise we bestow on those who remain one club stalwarts must be tempered by recognition that the opportunity to demonstrate unswerving loyalty is not extended to all. Salary cap constraints and younger, faster, and sometimes better new talents often force good players to move on. It's gratifying to see respected, willing and capable contributors receiving chances to extend their careers with a new club.
Finally, a moment of reflection – travelling around the traps leading into this holiday weekend has brought into sharp focus for me the loyalty that matters most of all – to our league, and our communities. Many clubs and players have marked this holiday season with visits to hospitals and charities to deliver Easter cheer, and to brighten flagging spirits. Wherever their club loyalties lie, our current players are indeed very fine ambassadors and very loyal servants of our great game.