Passion will take players and their teams a long way at the business end of the premiership. Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah has it in bucket-loads – so much passion, in fact, his bucket is overflowing. For Farah says he’d gladly play the rest of his career for no monetary reward if someone could guarantee him another premiership ring before he hangs up his boots.
“I’d play for free,” Farah tells NRL.com. “But don’t tell the club that!”
On the eve of tonight’s clash with the Titans, where a seventh straight victory and a winning margin of more than 12 points would see the Tigers leapfrog the Warriors, Dragons and Cowboys into coveted fourth position on the ladder, Farah also revealed Robert Lui’s growth as a playmaker had added a new dynamic to the team, relieving pressure on his and Benji Marshall’s workloads.
The grounding influence of coach Tim Sheens, rumours of a personal rift with Benji, his charity work, interests and life at home (with his parents, where he doesn’t pay board!) were all on the radar as a relaxed Farah opened up to NRL.com.
A captain’s calling
Statistics reveal Farah to be the most involved forward in this year’s premiership, having tallied more minutes on the field (average 80.2) than any other. He’s aware of the huge benefit this has provided the team’s attacking structure.
“Yeah – touch wood – I’ve had a good run with injuries… I think I have only missed two minutes of football over the last two years,” the 27-year-old said. “I’ve been out there for most of the time – and I don’t like coming off!”
The stats also show that the Tigers use the grubber kick as an attacking weapon more than any other team. To date they’ve booted 123 grubbers – 39 more than the next most kicked by the Sea Eagles (entering Round 25). Farah admits it’s a tool of choice – but adds it’s as much by necessity as design.
“Because when we put bombs up, our wingers don’t catch ’em!” he says, laughing. “We hardly score tries off the high ball – I don’t know why but it’s not a strength of our game, so we do tend to grubber in behind.
“We’ve got some quick guys that can take advantage of that and we have some good kickers with Benji, Rob Lui and myself, so that’s something we like to try to exploit.
Farah delivered special praise on Lui’s growth as a playmaker.
“Everybody knows how important a halfback is to a footy side and I think with us, and it’s shown in the last six weeks, that when Robert Lui is playing his best footy we are a lot better footy side,” he said.
“Not only is he taking control but he also takes the pressure off myself and Benji, which frees us up and allows us more opportunities.
“It is very hard for a defensive side to try and shut down the three of us at the one time. So no doubt – when Rob Lui is playing his best footy, the Tigers are at their best.”
Passion and pride
Farah’s passion is legendary; he is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve – but he knows that as captain he needs to project a sense of calm as well.
“It’s a tough one – I’ve got to try to be a bit of a calming influence on the younger guys at the club… it’s a bit hard at times,” he admits. “I’m a pretty passionate bloke, whether it be good or bad, whether we win or whether we lose. But I think it’s about finding the right balance.”
As for giving up his pay cheque for another premiership, reported in the Inner West Courier last week?
“I would, definitely! If you told me right now that I was going to win another premiership. It’s just priceless,” he enthused.
“The one we won in ’05… you understand how hard it is now to win a grand final and it’s the best feeling. Nothing that you could ever compare to anything else so it’s just an amazing feeling. I’d like nothing more than to win another one.
“I’d play for free. But don’t tell the club I said that!”
Tim Sheens and the Tigers’ culture
Farah says life at the Wests Tigers that can be summed up by three words.
“Family, mates and fun – I think if you ask anyone who plays here we have fun, we enjoy what we are doing, we enjoy being around each other and we see each other as one big family,” he said.
“We are a lot closer to each other than just teammates – we see ourselves as family, as brothers.”
As for distilling coach Sheens down to a single word, Farah laughs again.
“Anal! He’s pretty thorough with his preparation,” he said. “He leaves no stone unturned and that’s the message he tries to pass on down: that preparation is key… to make sure that you go out every week knowing you have prepared to the best of your ability and that you have left no stone unturned.
“The main thing that he has taught me throughout my career is that if you have got your preparation right, then you are 90 per cent there with your performance on the weekend.”
Asked about the weirdest thing written about him, Farah shakes his head and smiles. “There’s always a strong rumour that me and Benji don’t get along. But we have been playing together for nine years so it’s pretty remarkable that we’ve lasted this long together – considering that we apparently hate each other!
“But that’s a rumour I get a lot… I just laugh at that. Me and Benji are very close mates and we love playing footy together. We wouldn’t be here together trying to lead this club to another premiership if we thought otherwise.”
The road ahead
Farah said the Round 22 victory over the Dragons provided the Tigers with huge self-belief.
“We hadn’t beaten them in about three years so it definitely does give us a lot of belief knowing that we could match it – not only with them but we played Manly the week before and we had a good win against them as well,” he said.
“Heading into the finals games and having got a win up against those teams… if you do come up against them it’s good to know that you have got the potency to beat them.”
Farah is aware how quickly momentum can shift in the NRL and, despite the lowly ranking of the Titans, he knows the side needs to guard against any lapse in concentration tonight.
“It’s always something you worry about,” he observed. “We have played against a couple of teams in the past two weeks… Penrith – who were a depleted side through injury – and Parramatta last week who went into the game against us in last position, so we knew they would be pretty fired up to try to get off the bottom of the ladder.
“We are going to experience the same thing coming up against Gold Coast and then Cronulla. But as professional footy players you know those guys are going to go out and play with pride… no team likes to finish on the bottom of the ladder and everyone is going to be doing their best to try to finish off the season well.
“They would like to try to knock us off our perch as well coming into the semis. So they are going to be a couple of tough games.”
Doing it for the boys
Tonight’s clash at Campbelltown Stadium is the Wests Tigers’ last home game, with the club set to honour a host of players leaving their ranks including Todd Payten (retiring), Farah’s best friend Bryce Gibbs (off to the Sharks from 2012) as well as Tim Moltzen, Mark Flanagan, Andrew Fifita and Wade McKinnon.
Farah said the tight-knit squad knows their destiny is in their hands.
“It would be great to send those guys out on a high [with a premiership],” Farah said. “I’ve been involved with [Payten and Gibbs] my whole career; Gibbo for a bit longer through the juniors and Toddy is a player that has the utmost respect of any other person in this club. It’s going to be very sad to see them both go, and next year it’s going to be a very different place.
“We have only got hopefully six weeks left together, and hopefully we can make something of it.”
Farah and Gibbs have a history as practical jokesters – and Farah is sure that will continue long after Gibbs leaves Concord HQ.
“The pranks will be coming thick and hard next year, and the week that we will be playing the Sharks – but I think he would expect they would be returned as well!”
Off the field
Farah is particularly proud of the work his charity, Mates On A Mission, has achieved over the past several years.
“We have a couple of events a year, a golf day and a poker night. The name pretty much speaks for itself: we are just a bunch of mates on a mission trying to help out some people less fortunate than us,” he said.
“We understand that we are a lot better off than some people, so we are just trying to help out.
“We’ve done a lot of work with Father Chris Reilly’s ‘Youth Off The Streets’… some work with the Westmead Children’s Hospital… now we are into helping doing playgrounds in schools for kids with disabilities.
“They are projects we are really proud of because not only will they help the kids of today with those sorts of projects kids 20, 30 years away will get the benefits out of that.”
At random with Robbie…
Is there a rule you’d like to see tweaked?
“The stripping rule – I think these days as soon as a hand of a defensive player comes in contact with the ball it’s ruled six again straight away. But I’d like to see a bit more ownership on the ball carrier to secure the ball. You see ball carriers carrying the ball in the tackle these days just loosely trying to off load and a hand might come in contact with it and a penalty is given away, which is six again. Hands are always going to come in contact with the ball in tackles, so I’d like to see a bit more ownership on the ball carrier.”
Technically you still live at home, underneath your parents’ house. Do you pay board?
“No chance – I wouldn’t be home otherwise!”
Who does the washing?
What household chores do you do?
“I enjoy cooking… not all the time, but I do a far bit of cooking at home [Farah owns the restaurant Leichha Tiger in Leichhardt]. I do all my own dishes, when I can be bothered – but I have also got a girlfriend (Ashleigh) who does a lot of things for me.”
Which three celebrity chefs would you invite to a dinner party at your place?
“Jamie Oliver, no doubt – he is my favourite. Maybe Ainsley Harriott… he’s a character. And Julie Goodwin [Masterchef winner] – she is a massive Wests Tigers’ fan. She’s been down to training and has given us some cooking classes.”
What’s your signature dish?
“I make a really good risotto. I’ve got the technique down-pat.”
Any foods you won’t eat?
“I actually like to experiment with my food; I try everything – and being from a Mediterranean background there is always things that my mother makes that I’m sure nobody else would try. If you came to my house and saw the lamb’s tongue that she cooked, or the brains, or the intestines and things like that, I’m sure you would probably get disgusted by it. But I’m happy to try it all.”
“Not really… I have a habit on game day that everything I do, I do ‘right’ before my ‘left’ when I’m getting dressed. Right sock before my left sock… right boot first… it was bit of a superstition at the start, but it’s just a habit now.”
You’re a mad Liverpool FC fan – what are your most-prized pieces of memorabilia?
“I have got two prized pieces of memorabilia – one is when I was over in England and signed by the team that won the 2005 Champions League, and the other my girlfriend got me for Christmas is a signed Steven Gerrard football jersey. He is my favourite player.”
What lies ahead for Robbie Farah post-football?
“I have been doing a fair bit of media through Fox Sports and tried my hand at commentary there this year with the under-20s and been on the Fox Sports panel as well. Media is something I really enjoy and it would be a great thing for me to get into after the game, if the opportunity came. I would like to stay involved in footy one way or another, whether it be coaching or the media… just in any sort of way. It’s a game that I love and I would love to give back to.”
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
“Maybe a Bon Jovi song – I’m a big Bon Jovi fan… I know all the words! It’s always pretty embarrassing when you get up there and don’t know the words – but I’m pretty safe with some Bon Jovi songs.”
How do you unwind?
“I like nothing more than being with my family and friends. I have a great network of friends around me. I don’t really go out much these days. I enjoy a game of cards with my mates… a barbeque at home… and just watching a movie… playing golf – just keeping my mind away from footy.”
Last movie you saw?
“Bad Teacher… bad movie!”
Where will you head for your end-of-season holiday?
“I can’t make plans at the moment – I have to see what happens with the Four Nations. If I am on that tour, like last time [in 2009] I will try to stay over in Europe and visit a few countries over there. If not, our end-of-season trip this year is over to [Las] Vegas, so I might have to book a last-minute ticket and get on the plane with the boys.”