Farah’s a proud mummy’s boy
May 20, 2012
The Wests Tigers captain has coped with personal heartache and criticism of his game to show his mettle and reclaim his NSW jersey, writes Daniel Lane.
It took years for Sonia Farah to be coaxed to watch her baby Robbie play rugby league because it terrified her to think she could see him get injured in a game that appeared violent and dangerous.
She relented the day the Leichhardt Wanderers made the grand final of the Balmain junior rugby league and as the game wore on Mrs Farah breathed a little easier. Perhaps this sport, played with a ball shaped like a watermelon, wasn’t too bad.
That was when it happened.
With cracks that sounded as if an axeman had split an ironbark in half, her teenage son’s teammate, and the future New Zealand international Bronson Harrison, broke his leg in two places. Like everyone else she watched in horror as the boy went to the hospital screaming.
‘‘Mum didn’t come to see me play for a long time after that,’’ said Farah, the youngest of five children, with a slight grin. ‘‘My parents are past that now, that was when I was a kid. They’re very excited and proud of what I’ve done as a footballer.’’
Farah’s great wish for Wednesday’s Origin match was for his mother to join his family members who will fly to Melbourne to watch him end his three-year exile from the NSW team. Though, he has accepted that was a huge ask because she’s fighting pancreatic cancer.
‘‘We’re not sure yet,’’ Farah said of his mother’s possible attendance. ‘‘We hope she feels well enough to travel, but we really won’t know until a bit closer to the day. But whether she’s in the stand or not I’ll go out there and I’ll do her proud.’’
Farah divides his time between training and playing with cooking meals and cleaning the family house, being the best man he can be for her.
The Blues hooker shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably when asked how he had coped with the lead-up to his selection in Ricky Stuart’s Origin team after claims he didn’t have the temperament to make an impact on the code’s toughest stage; his playing style wouldn’t bother Queensland and, cruelly, images were dredged up of his last Blues appearance when he and prop Justin Poore missed a try line-bound Israel Folau with a limp effort, while a poor pass gifted Darren Lockyer the easiest of his tries.
Yet, as he posed in his NSW jumper during the week Farah insisted none of what was said mattered … now. ‘‘It has been a tough road the last few years,’’ Farah said of being on the outside looking in. ‘‘The last month was tough, but there is a lot of satisfaction in getting back here. I’m not just happy with being named in the team, it’s a matter of doing the job and helping NSW win back the State of Origin.’’
Before Stuart named his team last Sunday he used one word, ‘‘toughness’’, to describe the traits he will demand of his players. Wests Tigers winger Beau Ryan said if that was the criteria there should never have been the hullabaloo about Farah packing down for NSW.
Ryan, normally the team’s resident comedian, said Farah proved his toughness by handling a nightmarish time with class and courage.
He noted on top of his mother’s illness, Farah also contended with the duties of captaining the Tigers, which had so far included heatedly defending his players from Matthew Johns’s suggestion during a live television interview that they were playing ‘‘soft’’ and there was also the team’s woeful start to the season.
‘‘Robbie has been fantastic in the way he has coped with so much,’’ Ryan said. ''The way he’s held himself at training has been inspiring. Naturally he goes through some ups and downs, as anyone would in his situation. Despite his mum’s illness, he doesn’t bring moods to training and it could be easy to do that.
‘‘To lead the club and give everything in the three victories when we really needed them has been pretty bloody brave. His mum is one of the strongest women I’ve met. Like me, he’s blessed to come from a strong and loving family. I saw her on Mother’s Day and she’s fighting as best as she can.’’
Farah was momentarily stumped when asked how he had blocked everything out to play quality football.
‘‘I wish I had the answer,’’ he said. ''Obviously your mates help. Being around the boys gets my mind off things. They’re obviously a big help, but you know you have to go out there and play to the best of your ability because people watching don’t know what’s going on in my life … play poorly and they don’t care why. For me, it’s about playing for my teammates.
‘‘The last four to six weeks has been the most difficult period. You shut it out. As captain of the Tigers I know if I let those things affect me it’s going to affect other people. I’m happy with the way I’ve done that in the past and while it is going to be challenging moving forward I’m confident I can keep doing it.’’
Farah admits he used to be a pain after a loss. He would lock himself away, and brood about what went wrong, why it went wrong and who did wrong. Last year, he said those days were long gone as he had accepted defeat was part of football.
His reputation is of a hard-headed achiever whose brother provided him with ‘‘tough love’’ during his 2004 rookie season by betting $1000 he wouldn’t play first grade - he did.
Apart from an impressive league resume, Farah studied for an economics degree because his father, Peter, identified education as the key to having a future. He owns a restaurant on Leichhardt’s trendy Norton Street and doesn’t tolerate fools. There’s a warm side, although he hides it.
He formed the charity Mates On A Mission; last year he hosted the sixth birthday party for little Lleyton Giles, a sick child whose bravery to fight his illness floored the Wests Tigers.
But the most telling insight into him as a man was volunteered by Ryan. ‘‘I like that he loves his mum,’’ he said. ‘‘I like that he’s proud to be a mummy’s boy.’’