Our beloved team – amongst other adjectives – can be described as ‘baffling’ right now. The media says we need a new coach. Fans say we need a new board or better players (or both). Players are pointing fingers at each other literally on the field. Almost everyone says they need to burn it down and start again. Again.
My late grandfather was born and raised in Balmain. He had many opinions on things, but none like that of anything regarding our beloved Tigers. One of my most memorable opinions of his was back in 2016 when then coach Jason Taylor dropped club veteran and hooker Robbie Farah to reserve grade.
Pa, like many Wests Tigers fans, was disgusted by the treatment of Farah. A lot of it was because of Farah’s longtime loyalty to the club, but “how can you possibly drop a hooker who’s good enough to play for NSW?”, Pa said. At the time, I’ll admit, I thought perhaps it was time for us to look towards a fresh future seeing as it’d been a whole FIVE YEARS since the team had made the finals and a change was needed.
There are many things I would today love to be able to tell Pa what he was right about when it came to the Tigers, but I never got the chance after his sudden death on ANZAC Day this year. Truth be told, he definitely knew he was right and I was wrong anyway.
In fact it didn’t take long for the club to realise their mistake as well. Jason Taylor was sacked merely weeks into the following season. Robbie Farah eventually brought back into team. But the damage had been done. The foundations of the club had been shattered.
Despite the finals drought already being five years into the now decade-long length it is now, you can easily pinpoint that as the moment that made the franchise spiral into the basketcase that it is right now.
Now my Pa was pissed off over Farah’s dumping mainly because of the former Kangaroo’s playing ability alone. But what went down the Concord Oval toilets was something that the always underdog Wests Tigers had engrained during the Robbie era; loyalty.
In 2005, Wests Tigers won the premiership and it was fuelled mostly by camaraderie. They had no Origin players. They had no established superstars. They didn’t even have the entire salary cap spent. But what Tim Sheens had put together was a bunch of promising young kids like Farah, Benji Marshall and Anthony Laffranchi, mixed with some old pre-merger club stalwarts like John Skandalis and Mark O’Neil and some players thrown on the scrapheap by other clubs like Brett Hodgson and Scott Prince. It became the perfect mix purely because of one thing, the players played for each other. To this day that squad still refer to one another as brothers and you only need to watch a few minutes of highlights from that season to recognise that. The 2010, 2011 teams were much the same. Again, a well oiled machine built around Farah and Marshall.
Unlike the Sydney Roosters or South Sydney Rabbitohs today or in previous era’s the juggernaut teams Manly Sea Eagles and Brisbane Broncos, the Wests Tigers don’t have the luxury of making marquee player signings. Much like the Penrith Panthers have now done successfully, the only road to success for them has to be through nurturing young talent. They’re still one of the best at it, you only have to see the ‘former Wests Tigers’ teamlists media outlets put out every two weeks when it’s a slow news day to see how many of the game’s best players they’ve produced. But the issue is retaining them.
That list of lost talent is long but the top of the pile is James Tedesco. It’s hard to argue with the excuse for him leaving being Nick Politis throwing paperbags of cash, rent free beachside mansions and luxury cars and other outside the salary cap perks at the Camden Rams junior. But Tedesco backflipped on a big money offer deal with the Canberra Raiders back in 2014 to stay at Wests Tigers. That change of decision by Teddy was down to one man pretty much, Robbie Farah. When Farah was sent packing by Taylor, Tedesco (and Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods) said see you later as well. Why show loyalty to a club that would not be loyal to its most loyal servant?
It has to be more than a coincidence. Despite the Alan Border-like captain grumpy persona he was painted out to be, the fact was players wanted to play with Robbie and Robbie had no desire to play for anyone other than the Tigers. It was the perfect combination. It’s something we’ve been missing for years.
Bringing Robbie Farah back into the club, this time in the training staff, was a good move my coach Michael Maguire. But as good as it is having him in a blue shirt, what the team needs is their next Robbie Farah out there in the trenches. Unfortunately it’s a little late for the 37 year-old to make comeback again. But I’m sure it’s crossed his mind in the last few weeks.
So looking at our current playing group, is there a player in this squad that you could ever picture getting ‘Wests Tigers’ tattooed on their bicep? Is there a player in this squad that would look at home sitting on the Leichhardt Oval scoreboard drinking a beer and drawn to tears thinking how much they’ll miss playing there? Is there a player in this squad that would live, breathe, bleed, sweat, fight, yell, scream for the Wests Tigers just like Robbie Farah did 277 times? The jury is out.
You could make a case for fellow Lebanese-Australian and also good friend of Farah, Adam Doueihi. When the Wests Tigers beat the Penrith Panthers at Leichhardt Oval four games ago, he was fist pumping to the crowd and you could see his love, desire and passion for the jersey he was wearing. If you squinted a little, it was like looking at a fresh faced Robbie Farah (and they do kinda look alike to be fair). In this writer’s opinion, it should be AD’s team and built around him from the ground up going forward.
If any the current squad read this (hey, you never know), please know that this passion that Adam showed that evening is what us fans notice the most. It’s not the stats or the Supercoach points. It’s even a little more important than winning or losing. We want to see guys out there and playing with desire. You can tell the media, write on Twitter or shout it from the rooftop that you’re trying your damn hardest. But you’re not going to convince a single one of us that it’s the case right now.
Is it too much to ask you as professional athletes to just try harder? Losing on the scoreboard ruins our Mondays, but we get over it. If we had exited through the gates of Leichhardt Oval, or Campbelltown Stadium, or Bankwest Stadium or Tamworth (or any goddamn football ground on the planet we follow you blokes to week in, week out) having witnessed the 17 men wearing the same colours as us out there put their heart and soul into the game, you can bank on us coming back next Friday, Saturday or Sunday. And the week after that. And the season after that.
But the current attitude being showed by the playing group is turning away even the most loyal of Wests Tigers fans right now. If you purely don’t care that it’s happening on your watch, then go ahead and try and make one of those ‘former Wests Tigers’ listicles then and leave.
Or you can turn up and perform not only for your next contract or for a highlight feature on Instagram, but for those of us who shape their entire life around the club you’re representing.
You can become more than just a former player. You can become a club legend.
Become our next Robbie Farah. Please.