Fullback Farah sticks with junior rugby league roots
Only three players in his entire career thus far have ever dislodged Robbie Farah from his beloved position in the middle of the scrum: Cameron Smith, Michael Ennis and Christopher Harry Olsen.
It's been a decade and a half since Farah lost out to the last bloke on that list, but "he still says that's his claim to fame," Farah quips.
The Tigers skipper would have been 14 years old when his first junior rugby league club, the Enfield Federals, folded and left him on the lookout for a new club.
He didn't need to look for long. The Leichhardt Wanderers had been trying for years to bring the Bulldogs junior across the district. There was, however, a sizeable catch: The coach's son had a mortgage on his No.9 jersey.
"I had Harry since he was four years of age. He was always a dummy-half. I just couldn't see any sense in changing," Farah's Wanderers coach, Barney Olsen, recalls.
"Robbie came over and I said, 'Where do you want to play?' He asked if he could play hooker. I said, 'Harry's playing hooker at the moment. If he doesn't do the right thing, then you can go into hooker. Do you want a go at fullback?'"
And, according to Farah, he didn't go too bad at the back. He might never have been a Billy Slater, but – again, according to Farah – he did look a little like a legendary custodian out of Belmore.
"I was a Bulldogs supporter back then, so they all used to call me 'The General' because Luke Patten was the fullback for the Dogs," he remembers.
"I went alright at fullback actually – I was pretty good. I kicked goals, played a grand final at fullback... so yeah, I went alright.
"It gave me a different perspective on a different position to play. It was just good fun. We still have a chuckle about it to this day."
Sometimes it's more than just a chuckle. Sometimes, when Farah and his teammates are huddled in the in-goal at Leichhardt Oval, you can hear Olsen reminding his old teammate about who forced him out of the Wanderers' hooker position.
This is what happens when you make lifelong friends at junior rugby league level. They're there to drag you back to earth during the good times, and give you a light-hearted gobful during the bad.
"If I'm down in the corner, I'll know they're sitting there. I'll look up, the corner on the hill – they're there," Farah says.
"I'll always have a look to make sure they're there. If you're in that back corner, if you're defending your tryline, if you've got a repeat set, or if you're behind the goal line, you can hear them.
"After the game, when you go off and thank the crowd, the boys get rowdy. Mate, it's a great feeling knowing that those boys take pride in what I'm doing and are there to cheer me on. I'm sure if they see me do well, it makes them pretty happy."
Long before Daly Cherry-Evans became the saviour of the Gold Coast, the heart and soul of Concord was deep in negotiations to move up north. Farah was three years removed from a premiership and wanted to re-unite with halfback Scott Prince on the glitter strip.
"Last time I was off contract, and there were rumours I was going to leave and that, but the thing keeping me here the most was just how good it would've been to play your career out at one club," Farah says.
"I'm a pretty loyal bloke, and it's a club I love so much. I'm pretty lucky to be able to have that opportunity to have done that. I started playing here when I was 12. I'll be 33 or 34 when I'm done. That's over two-thirds of my life involved with the Tigers. It definitely means a lot to me to be able to do that."
And much of it has to do with Olsen and his old man, who have made the 31-year-old Farah the player he is. Or closer to the point, the man he is: a member of the rarified one-club player group.
"That passion and love for the district and the Tigers started when I came here [to the Wanderers]. If they weren't passionate, and I didn't feed off that... I guess that instilled in me as a young kid," he says.
"I haven't finished up yet, but I'd like to think that I'll finish my career now at the Tigers. And as you said, it's a rarity these days. Not many people get to do that.
"For myself, growing up playing here, through Harold Matts, SG Ball, Jersey Flegg for Balmain Tigers, all I ever wanted to do was play first grade for Wests Tigers and run out at Leichhardt Oval.
"That was a dream as a kid. I still pinch myself that it's been my 13th season now, captain of the club since 2009... you never dream of that as a kid."
Round 3 of the Telstra Premiership is PlayNRL Round where the game will celebrate all that’s great about grassroots rugby league.
Rugby league is all about having fun, making friends and staying healthy. The NRL is using this round to help promote Junior Rugby League and thank you, our future stars and fans and heroes who help make it all possible.
Join the conversation at #PlayNRL, get your tickets at nrl.com/tickets and get to a game. Talk to your local junior club about signing up as a player or volunteer and join the thousands of people who make rugby league great.