Robbie Farah was so nervous before announcing his retirement on Tuesday that he asked his manager Sam Ayoub to have a bottle of Chivas Regal sent over to the café where they were meeting before the press conference at Leichhardt Oval.
“I had to have a couple of nips of whisky to calm me down,” Farah told a packed media conference in the home dressing room at the iconic ground where Wests Tigers will celebrate his 300-match career in Thursday night’s clash with North Queensland.
"I couldn't have too much, I've got to play on Thursday."
While close mate Benji Marshall, whom he has shared most of his greatest moments with, is set to play on again with the Tigers next year, the effort required for Farah to play each week has convinced the 35-year-old hooker to bow out at the end of the season.
Undoubtedly his favourite memory is the 2005 grand final triumph over the Cowboys, but he listed helping NSW to end Queensland’s eight-year State of Origin domination in 2014 and captaining Lebanon at the 2017 World Cup as other career highlights.
However, there have also been some lows and Farah had to be talked out of retiring while playing NSW Cup for North Sydney last season before the opportunity arose for him to finish his career back where it began after being forced out of the club in 2016.
Robbie Farah announces retirement
After climbing the Leichhardt Oval scoreboard with a beer to savour what he thought was his last match for the Tigers three years ago, Farah is now set to enjoy a send-off in the round 25 match against Cronulla to rival Wayne Pearce’s farewell in 1990.
The final-round clash is likely to be the last for either Farah or Sharks captain and former Blues team-mate Paul Gallen, as the Tigers and Sharks are among the clubs locked in a battle for a place in the finals.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have this opportunity,” Farah said.
"The boys make a joke that I live up in the scoreboard now. It's incredible, I remember sitting at a lunch with a lot of my mates three years ago when I left and I was in tears. I can retire now, just being content with the opportunities I have had.”
Farah is proud that he can choose his own ending but the most capped Tigers player acknowledged the debt of gratitude he owes coach Michael Maguire, who offered him a lifeline at South Sydney in 2017, along with the medical staff who have often worked around the clock to get him on the field.
It is an indication of Farah’s wholehearted commitment to every team he plays for that he mentored Damien Cook at the Rabbitohs and then watched as the NSW Origin hooker took his place.
Since returning to the Tigers midway through last season, he has been performing a similar role with understudy Jacob Liddle and Queensland Under 18s hooker Jake Simpkin.
Farah reflects on 300 game milestone
“For me it is just the opportunity to go out on my terms,” Farah said.
“That hasn’t always been the case in my career.
“I feel like I am still playing good footy but I wouldn’t want to go a year too long and for my body to break down or I’m not in good enough form or Madge has got a couple of good young hookers at the club coming through and they go past me. I just feel like the time is right and the club is in good hands.”
In many ways there are similarities between the direction Maguire is taking the club and what Tim Sheens achieved after being the third choice coach behind Ian Millward and Craig Bellamy in 2003.
When Sheens signed former NSW fullback Brett Hodgson from Parramatta the following season, he told him the Tigers had two future superstars in Farah and Marshall.
Milestone man Farah gets a try
“Tim said the was going to build around those two and that is what they have done,” Hodgson said.
“Robbie is the ultimate competitor, I have never seen anyone compete as hard as him in everything he does and I have never seen anyone take a loss as hard as Robbie. He has had a wonderful career.
“He always pushes himself where others don’t and that is a big testament to why he has done what he has done. On his days off, he would always do something hard when other people weren’t and that got him ready mentally.
“Even now, his body is feeling it a bit but he still does his extra stuff that pushes him so that mentally he gets to the game and he is ready to go. There aren’t many people who have that same work ethic that he does.”
Maguire added: “The passion he has is something that has definitely stood out to me in making him the player he is and what has allowed him to get to 300 games and still going it is all the commitment and time he puts in. There are days where he is working on his body pretty well 24 hours a day just to allow him to play”.
That passion has got Farah into trouble on occasions and he mentioned at the press conference how he had endured a love-hate relationship with sections of the media for which he made no apologies.
Farah also had a running battle with Jason Taylor during his time as Tigers coach, which resulted in him being forced out but he said his love for the club never waned.
A look back at the best of Robbie Farah
“I don’t think I would have come back if I didn’t love the club,” he said.
“With everything I went through that never changed and I fought so hard at the time [to stay] because of the love I have for this club.”
As part of his termination agreement, Farah negotiated an ambassador’s role with the Tigers after his playing career ended that resulted in CEO Justin Pascoe being suspended by the NRL for failing to declare the deal.
Asked if he would now take up the ambassador’s role, Farah turned to Pascoe and said: “We’ve done the crime, we might as well.”
Pascoe said that would be discussed at the end of the season after the Tigers send Farah out in far happier circumstances that his last farewell in 2016.
“We are all delivered up circumstances in life that aren’t favourable, collectively and individually, especially in sport and I think it is a credit to Robbie’s character that he didn’t go and kick stones, he worked hard at Souths, and we are really happy that we gave him a chance to come back to the club he loves,” Pascoe said.
“It’s a big part of our culture to try and focus on if things don’t go your way, not to use them as excuses for not reaching the heights of success but also to try and bring back past players because they are fabric of what this club is about.”
Farah said he was proud to have inspired young players to take up the game, especially those of Lebanese heritage like him.
“I never came from a rugby league family,” he said.
“It was probably through my stubbornness that I became obsessed with rugby league because I had a brother who told me I would never play one game in the NRL. As soon as he told me that I said ‘I will prove you wrong’.
“I think I have shown a lot of kids that if you just put your mind to something, if you want to achieve something and you want it so bad, you can do it - especially for a lot of Lebanese kids in the community. A lot of them have come up to me who have dreams of playing in the NRL or playing for the Cedars so that makes me very proud.”