In a perfect world, Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor would acknowledge that Robbie Farah is among the best 17 players he can trot out each week.
In a perfect world Taylor would thus, in effect, admit that, well, I may have my issues with Robbie and how he plays, and how doesn’t seem to respect my authoritah.
He may remind himself that, yes, I am the coach and the buck stops with me, and I can hire and fire ’em as I see fit, but I may have to take one for the team here.
We don’t, of course, live in a perfect world. Anyone who’s seen the decisions tossed up by the bunker would attest to that.
And thus two proud men and egos collide. Farah is not willing to leave and Taylor is not willing to pick him.
And the saga rolls on. And all Tigers fans are left with is questions.
A mate of mine, Tigers fan, Balmain boy, emailed me about all this, asking: “Mr Cleary – enlighten me on the current balls-up at my beloved club.”
“My thoughts are that Robbie has been a great player but if it’s the truth he’s had personality clashes with what is now a third coach, perhaps he may be a problem.
“Adding to concern is that virtually no other club is interested in a current Origin hooker.
“Is there a perception he knows it all and can’t be coached?”
Now, I don’t know Robbie well. Wrote a big feature yarn on him for Inside Sport and had a couple hours over coffee in the office of his manager, Sam Ayoub, in Leichhardt.
I did another yarn with him for Big League’s grand final program, sat around with he and some of the Tigers of ’05 and watched that epic grand final over a few beers.
And we’ve since swapped a bit of WhatsApp gibber-jabber. And I’d say I like the bloke as blokes like blokes they don’t really know. Robbie? Good bloke.
But I don’t know him.
But I do reckon I know his motivations in this instance.
For here’s a thing about players in the NRL (and AFL, Super Rugby, A-League). They’re fairly cynical about “loyalty”. And the older they are the more cynical they get.
These men know – and with some justification – that a footy club won’t hesitate to punt them if they’re deemed superfluous to requirements.
They have loyalty to their mates. Footy clubs are like a brotherhood. But loyalty to the “club”, meaning the suits and bean-counters who hold sway over their careers and very lives?
As a wise man once said: Yeah, nah.
Farah believes the club would love him to do something naughty on the drink and give them an excuse. Clubs do use an unwanted player’s off-field behaviour as an excuse to punt them and free up salary cap space.
Kirisome Auva’a? David Goneski.
Right or wrong, it’s a tough business, man.
But Farah’s a tough businessman. He’s been playing professional footy for 13 years. And he knows, in this case, that he’s in the right.
Fact: the footy club owes him money. If they wanted to heavily “back-end” his deal, as Parramatta did with Anthony Watmough, that’s their tough shit.
Farah signed and played in good faith. He doesn’t have to do anything for Tigers Inc, but Tigers Inc. want him gone. Why do anything for these people?
Why wouldn’t another club pick him up, as my mate asks? Answer: Because he’s 32. Only club that’ll buy a 32-year-old hooker is Wests Tigers, as they did with Matt Ballin. That’s on them, too.
Maybe it’s indicative of how coaches feel about Farah. Perhaps there’s a perception he can’t be coached to play footy any other way than the way he does, which is as the key man, the driver, the general.
Maybe they think he’ll have their job.
But here’s a thing I do know about Farah. If the board – his employers – asks him what he thinks about a coach, he’ll tell them. He’d just think that’s honesty.
It’s up to the suits what they do with the information. He didn’t agitate for Mick Potter’s job. He just answered honestly what he thought.
Maybe that’s scary to coaches.
Another bit of accepted group think is that the young Tigers halves can’t play with Farah there. They can’t run free, do their own thing because Farah’s so dominant.
For mine? Please. Even if that were true, you make it work. For surely you want this as your spine – James Tedesco, Mitch Moses, Luke Brooks and Farah. Imagine what Bennett or Bellamy would be doing with that fab four. You want those names out there.
I mean, don’t you? Surely you make that work. How do you not want Farah among that? How do you not fit Farah into that?
Especially if he won’t leave!
Because there you are, you own the bloody player and he won’t go, and you have to pay him all that money anyway, and he’s obviously among the best players that you have, and you want to make the finals this year and next year… so surely you make it work.
Surely Taylor should cop it all sweet, and admit that that players aren’t all equal. And a 247-game club ‘legend’ shouldn’t be treated like a commodity on the great man-trading exchange that is the National Rugby League.
In the perfect world Taylor would cop that the footy club, his employer, has signed on to employ Farah for this season and the next, and that Taylor just has to bloody lump it and do the best to make it work.
Why doesn’t Taylor think Farah is among his best 17 players? The man’s just played State of Origin. There’s a couple of better hookers in the NRL. Cam Smith is one. Josh Hodgson is another. There’s a few younger ones. But Farah is still an elite No.9.
And if Wests Tigers are a fair dinkum chance of playing finals football, and progressing beyond week one, Farah is in that Tigers XVII.
Perfect world, anyway.