FOR the first time in donkey’s years, Robbie Farah is not the Wests Tigers.
Aaron Woods is. So much so the club put his likeness on a T-shirt. They should come with ‘What Would Woodsy Do?’ printed beneath.
Few embody that old ‘actions over words’ chestnut quite like the no-guff, no-gibber front-rower.
In 2017 both Woods and the Tigers are moulding post-Farah identities, though the polarising No. 9 will still loom large for both.
Here the 25-year-old prop reflects on a tumultuous 12 months leading the club he loves, life with and without Robbie and the mystery mentor who’s helped make him who he is.
THE FARAH EFFECT: ‘NO MORE EXCUSES’
Woods’ first season as skipper was as unenviable as it was uncomfortable as one of his best mates was kicked to the kerb, again, then out the door.
In his second year he still plans to consult with Farah — the face of all things Tigers, good, bad and ugly for over a decade — on the captaincy he claimed from him.
“I still talk to Robbie, 100 per cent, and I still will,” Woods says.
“We catch up all the time … he’s still a really good mate and we still talk everything to do with footy and captaincy.
“But I probably won’t go to him that first week when we’re playing him against Souths.”
That last one came with the trademark toothy Woods grin. The next one with a distinct game face.
“We’ll get asked questions about Robbie and all that going into round one, that’s just life,” Woods says.
“The good thing is there’s no more excuses. The last year and the few before that, there’s been dramas and that ongoing saga.
“There’s no more excuses and the young blokes when they’re talking to the media and those kind of things they don’t have to say this or do that.
“They can be upfront and talk about footy and be themselves, not have to talk about Robbie or talk about JT.
“It’s a weight off the shoulders of the boys, but you still have to perform or you end up talking about things you don’t want to anyway.”
THE MYSTERY MENTOR
Four years ago Woods was well and truly on the way up, but struggling to stay grounded.
A meeting with a mystery mentor — who isn’t a psychologist, and who shall remain nameless — turned into another. Then another, and eventually one every week.
“He makes me feel a bit more confident in myself, but it’s hard to say what he does because every week we do something different.” Woods says.
“He doesn’t do it for the accolades, he’s just a genuine good fella and he just loves trying to get the best out of people. He doesn’t help with just footy, he’s helped with my life away from footy as well.
“I was a bit of a hothead and I’d stress a lot. After games I wouldn’t sleep and I’d be angry when I went home, my partner (new bride Sarah) would be off that.
“He’s helped with my relationship a lot and that’s been made a lot better as well, we’re happily married and she’s still putting up with me.”
Teammates James Tedesco, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses are among a growing troop of Tigers and NRL stars swearing by the sound advice.
They’re also sworn to secrecy.
“He does a lot of things and I’ve asked him a couple of times if he’d mind if I told you guys his name.
“He always says ‘no, no, I do it for our friendship, that’s it.’ When someone says that, you hold it pretty close to your heart.
“It’s great that he’s not from the game directly. He’s got a very good football brain and he’s a rugby league supporter of the game itself.
“But he’s about unlocking people’s potential no matter what they do. It’s hard to explain, but everything is positive. Everything we work on, there’s no negatives, no dwelling on anything.”
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Woods would do well not to dwell too much on 2016.
As he bluntly puts it “people say we were close to the eight. But we weren’t in the eight, so what’s it matter?”
But as one of the youngest captains in the competition, Woods’ own personal contribution to the Tigers’ cause couldn’t be faulted.
His unyielding club returns made him a representative shoo-in at NSW and Australian level for the first time in his career.
The actions lead, then the words follow. After 12 months in the job, Woods is confident he and the Tigers have the combinations to end a finals drought stretching back to 2011.
“I learned a lot last year. It was very hard at times with Robbie being one of my best mates and all the things that happened,” Woods says.
“It was tough to see a mate go out of the club like that but at the same time he helped me out with a lot of things.
“In those periods I was just trying to keep the boys’ minds off it.
“That was my biggest learning curve. It’s the kind of stuff that when it piles up, it can make or break your year.
“I was pretty happy with how the boys dug deep … but it’s all done now like I said. There’s no more excuses now.”