Finally, tears of joy for Farah at Wests Tigers as he lets go of the past
It was just after Robbie Farah had spoken to Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary about the potential of returning home.
"Just thinking about coming back, I started crying," the veteran hooker admits in the confines of the club’s Concord headquarters this week.
"It’s been a tough couple of years. That emotion just came out in me."
Farah has cried many tears over his beloved Tigers. But it’s been a long time since they’ve been tears of joy.
There’s no denying Farah is an emotional person. Some would argue it only intensified the severity of the well-publicised break-up with the club 18 months ago.
"In any part of life, you look back and once you take the emotion out of it, because there’s always emotion involved and sometimes that can spill over," Farah told NRL.com.
"You look back and you think ‘maybe I could have done this differently or that differently’. I’d be here banging my head against a brick wall all day if I was thinking like that. I have no interest in talking about the past.
"It happened. We all know what happened. But now I’m back here and I want to help Ivan continue doing the great job he has done. I want to help the club continue doing the great job it has done. Everyone is on the bus."
There was a time when the past was all Farah cared about. He couldn’t get over how some people, who had just walked into the home he had owned for so long, had the audacity to kick him out of it.
He held on to the resentment until the point where his love for rugby league had diminished almost to the brink of no return.
"The World Cup under Freddy probably saved my career," Farah said.
"It was probably the best experience of my life. Not just on the field with the results but off the field. Just the fun and enjoyment we had in camp with boys that I played with 15 years ago that have played park footy for $200 a game for the past 15 years.
"Sometimes you take for granted how fun it is to play footy and how lucky we are to play footy for a living. I rediscovered my love for the game and the reason I started playing the game in the first place. Not worrying about all the external stuff that comes with it."
Farah went back to South Sydney after the campaign under Brad Fittler with Lebanon, and soon after was told by new coach Anthony Seibold that Damien Cook would be playing 80 minutes each game as the starting hooker.
Many thought that would be the end of Farah. That he would vanish into the night and finish his career in the Super League or as one of the most accomplished reserve-graders the game has seen.
"I had a lot of self-doubt that was creeping into my head," Farah said.
"Whether I was too old, whether I was still good enough or whether I had the motivation to keep playing. It’s pretty tough when you’ve reached the highs that I’ve reached in my career but then you find yourself at the back end of your career playing NSW Cup. There were a lot of questions I had to ask myself in my head. It wasn’t until I played those two NRL games during the Origin period that I proved to myself, more than anyone, that I could still play at the highest level."
It was at that time, when Farah was getting ready to play his first NRL game for the season, he received a text message from his old partner in crime – Benji Marshall.
"I probably read the text message 20 times, to be honest, so I should know it off by heart," Farah jokes.
"He just said ‘mate I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now and I think you should come back and finish your career here. We need a bit of help at hooker'."
Farah’s heart dropped. His imagination ran wild at the thought of finishing his career where it all began.
"I just replied straightaway: 'in a heartbeat'. I didn’t even think. I was just so excited. Once the enormity of it sunk in, one of my emotions was that I felt I was letting South Sydney down. I didn’t want that to be the case.
"I also wasn’t sure if it was a possibility or if it was just Benji’s idea. I didn’t know what the situation was. Benji said to me reach out to Ivan and do what I did. I just said to Benji, I had a game to prepare for that week. I’m happy to speak to Ivan, but float the idea with Ivan first because it might be a flat no."
A couple of days later, Marshall called Farah to let him know there was still a seat left on the bus if he was willing to have a chat with the coach.
So he called Cleary and they organised to meet up.
"I was actually so nervous about it," Farah said.
"It was like a job interview. He was obviously looking for a hooker and I thought I could help out. He saw it as a win-win situation. He could help me out and I could come back and help the club out. In that sense it was a marriage made in heaven."
There are very few times fairytale finishes and rugby league go hand in hand. This is one of them.
It’s the difference between a man living the rest of his life with regret or retiring at peace with it all.
"There was unfinished business when I left," Farah said.
"To come back here and finish, on a personal level, I will retire a more content man than I would have if I didn’t come back. That’s fair to say. But at the same time the club didn’t get me back because of the feelgood story. It’s not just a publicity stunt.
"That gets lost in it all with everyone saying ‘Robbie is back, it’s a great story’. What will be an even better story is if we make the semis. They didn’t get me back to sell a few tickets or make me feel better about myself. I’m here because they want to win and I want to help them win. By coming back and winning games and making the semis, maybe no one will remember those hard times, just a good ending."
The most pleasing aspect about his return is the reaction it has evoked – and not only from Wests Tigers fan.
"People on the street stopping me and telling me how great it is," Farah said.
"Seeing the enjoyment in the fans, not just my own enjoyment, seeing the reaction and how much it meant to them, that made me happy. It’s nice. Even from Rabbitohs fans saying ‘thanks for everything you did for us, but it’s time to go home’."
In a sport that is increasingly becoming more business-minded by the day, the gesture of South Sydney to release Farah from his final year to rejoin his old club has somewhat been underplayed.
You wouldn’t blame Seibold, who is on the verge of guiding Souths back to the finals, for keeping Farah as cover for Cook.
But he made a promise to Farah that he wouldn’t stand in his way should he get an opportunity elsewhere.
"Seebs was enormous with the way he dealt with my situation. You could tell he felt sorry for me," Farah said.
"Souths didn’t have to let me go. I would feel terrible if something was to happen to Cooky. Seebs told me a couple of months ago that I had his blessing to go if something came up, but since then Souths have been on a roll and one of the favourites for the premiership.
"It’s a risk they’ve taken but Seebs made the decision thinking about me as a person first. That’s why he’s a special coach. He said to me right through the year ‘you’re not a reserve-grader, so don’t think of yourself as one’. He didn’t make me play reserve grade every week. He felt bad leaving me there to play reserve grade because I think he felt that wasn’t the way I should finish my career."
So here he is. Back at his beloved Tigers preparing to run out on to Leichhardt Oval.
"Bloody hell. I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it," Farah said.
"It’s my favourite place in the whole world."
The same place hundreds of fans gathered to show their support when he was axed to the Intrust Super Premiership. The same place he sat on the famous scoreboard on his own drinking the day away on what was meant to be his last at the club.
A club that only 18 months ago backed a view from its ex-coach that he was a negative influence on his teammates. But this coach thinks differently, and the club has once again backed the decision of its leader.
"I’m not coming in to rock the boat or completely change the way the team has been playing," Farah said.
"That’s not going to happen. Moses [Mbye] and I have already spoken about coming in and adapting to the way the team is playing. Adding some quality and decision making in those key positions without disrupting things too much.
"We don’t have much time to waste. It’s not like we have three or four weeks to get it right. If it takes three or four weeks our season is gone. Our season will be over."