Tigers welcome back Farah's leadership
He may no longer be the club skipper, but returning Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah's experience under pressure will be vital to a side looking to reverse some concerning late-game fadeouts ahead of a huge Round 4 Easter Monday clash with Parramatta.
Ex-captain Farah hurt his knee in a trial game meaning coach Jason Taylor has had to juggle rookie rake Manaia Cherrington with makeshift dummy halves like Jack Littlejohn and Dene Halatau.
They got the job done in Rounds 1 and 2 despite second-half fadeouts letting the Warriors and Sea Eagles respectively back into the contests, but a worrying slip to a 30-18 loss after leading 10-0 on the Gold Coast on Saturday means Farah's return can't come soon enough.
New captain Aaron Woods wasn't anticipating his own role to change in any way ahead of what will be the pair's first NRL game together since Woods took over from Farah as captain.
"It won't change [my role] at all. He's another leader in the side anyway," Woods said.
"We just need Robbie to chime in at the right time. As you've seen the last couple of weeks we've got out to leads and teams have come back so we just need Robbie to bring that calm head and take control of the moments in the game when we need him back. If he can do that we'll go a long way to winning."
Utility forward Halatau was looking forward to reverting to his more familiar spot with the senior dummy-half returning and Cherrington retaining his bench spot.
"I didn't play a lot of hooker through the pre-season with the number of hookers we had at the club, I didn't think it'd be a problem but I've ended up playing there. I'm ready to go wherever [the coach] wants me," Halatau said.
"I do fill in there and I don't mind doing it but I prefer to be playing in the back row so having Robbie back if he is picked and ready to go then it'll mean I can play somewhere I'm probably more comfortable with."
Farah's work rate in the middle of the park and his on-field leadership would both be welcome boosts to the club as it looks to return to the winner's circle, according to Halatau.
"He's very competitive and he's always in good nick. Whenever he's had an injury and come back from injury he's always been in really good shape. He shores us up in the middle and no doubt he'll do the same for us on the weekend, he'll just tackle himself to a standstill and provide good service for the halves," he said.
Halatau is one of several senior players who have been supporting Woods in his transition to captain and that will continue with Farah back, Halatau said, along with back-rower Chris Lawrence (who will miss the Eels clash due to a one-game suspension).
"He's a young guy Woodsy and there's a few of us that have been around a little bit longer. Myself and Chrissy being vice captains are there to support him and Robbie has been nothing but great in giving him the help when he needs it and stepping aside when he has to so it's actually worked really well," he said.
"Woodsy's earned his stripes and all of us are happy to see him take the reins and be the main man.
"When you're a senior player and a nine, seven, six or one, like Robbie is a nine, you definitely have a lot of say in how a team's going and how the structure is panning out so he's got to have a voice if he's in that number nine position and as a senior player to lead by example but ultimately we know Woodsy's our skipper and we trust him and we follow him."
Halatau said Farah had seemed more relaxed this past off-season with a bit less on his plate – and the giveaway is the Blues vice-captain getting less worked up over the fortunes of his beloved EPL side Liverpool.
"Usually he rides the roller coaster of however Liverpool's going in the Premier League but I haven't noticed it as much," laughed Halatau.
"I think maybe Woodsy taking that captaincy role has given Robbie less to worry about, more just to think about his footy and his own individual prep for most of the time and it's worked out well for him I think."