I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall ‘feud’ claim destroyed as NRL careers conclude
By Tim Elbra
Robbie Farah vs Benji Marshall was a misunderstood NRL tale, often concocted into a feud but more like a robust brotherhood.
It was said more than a few times during their careers that they had become enemies; a tired storyline that’s been forever eliminated as their time in rugby league has drawn to a close.
As Farah announced his retirement on Tuesday, there was almost a disbelief – having enjoyed an extraordinary reunion at Wests Tigers – that the pair would not retire together.
“It’d be nice, it’d be ideal, but we’re both different. We never really spoke about it, to be honest,” Farah said.
“I told Benji yesterday before training [about retiring]. I kind of mentioned it to him a few times in the past few weeks, but I don’t think he took me seriously. When I told him yesterday, he’s like, ‘Oh, you’re actually serious’.”
Marshall joked to the media last year, after being reunited at their original club, that he and Farah “hated each other”. It was always a joke to them, yet it became gospel to many fans and media figures.
Football clubs are high pressure, short-tempered environments and it’s often forgotten just what happened after Marshall and Farah starred in the Tigers’ fairytale 2005 premiership.
They missed the finals for the next four seasons. They got to within a point of the 2010 grand final, downed by a Jamie Soward field goal for the Dragons, then bombed out in week two of the 2011 finals.
That was it. They plummeted to 10th the next season and Marshall left the club mid-2013, before the team finished 15th. They missed the finals three more times before Farah was sent packing by Jason Taylor to South Sydney.
It has been a tougher road than anyone anticipated and they have travelled it differently.
As much as he loved the Tigers, Marshall was a distracted and underperforming player when he left for an ill-fated stint in rugby, with even his closest allies wondering where his head was at. The magic disappeared for a while.
Farah never wavered in his passion for his junior club, rejecting an attractive offer from the Titans in 2008-09 because he couldn’t sleep when he thought of never wearing a black and gold jersey at Leichhardt Oval again. He became Tigers captain when he re-signed, realising a childhood dream.
Farah brought at extreme competitiveness to every moment he spent in a Tigers jersey. He was heartbroken when Taylor forced him out.
Yet he and Marshall somehow ended up back where they started last season.
Farah was released by the Rabbitohs, having seriously considered retirement a few weeks prior during a miserable reserve grade game with North Sydney. Benji arrived after stints with the Dragons and Broncos, his sorcery slowly returning.
Marshall planted the seed with Farah on the night of a State of Origin game, texting him something like: “Would you come home?” Farah could think of nothing better.
They played great football together, like old times. They ran plays without even calling them, having built a rare intuition during their younger days. They showed the young blokes how it was done and have continued to do so this season.
It’s been a year of milestones and Marshall’s 300th must have been the final nail in the coffin of the feud narrative. Marshall’s barely-contained emotions and the weight in Farah’s voice told the story.
Farah appeared in a wonderful pre-game tribute for NRL.com and his words sang his affection for his long-time teammate.
“So many memories, so much to say. We’ve been through so much together, bro,” Farah said.
“’05 and winning the comp, we were just on top of the world back then, we were just young kids loving life.
“And so many hard times, too, you know. We were there for each other. We lost loved ones. I remember ringing you when my mum passed away and you were there for me.
“I remember you telling me when you were leaving the club. I was there at Kogarah when you didn’t know if you had a contract for the next year and you thought it might be your last game in the NRL. And to see you now, playing your 300th back at the club and bringing me back … to be here with you, bro, it’s just like a dream come true. Neither of us thought it would happen.
“I just want you to know how proud I am of you. You’re an idol and an inspiration to so many.
“I love ya. I’ve got so much respect for you and I’m just grateful that one day I can tell everyone that I played my whole career with Benji Marshall.”
For all the moments on the field, nothing in Farah’s life has impacted him like the death of his mother, Sonia, from pancreatic cancer in 2012. That Sunday, Marshall - who had lost his father, Mick Doherty, to pancreatic cancer two years earlier - took to Leichhardt Oval in front of a silent crowd and wept for his great friend’s loss.
It seemed inconceivable at the time that both Tigers heroes would be lost to the club. Yet they were not long after, before the rugby league gods righted that grievous wrong to allow them to end their careers in the right place. Marshall’s 300th ended in a defeat to Parramatta, but Farah’s 300th last weekend brought a thrilling win over Newcastle.
It’s been wonderful to watch. Perhaps it was just too perfect to expect that their retirements would come in the same game.
“We’re different. He obviously plays in the halves and he’s a year younger than me, even though he calls me an old man,” Farah said on Tuesday.
“And he’s playing great footy. I think he’s got more to give, if he wants to; and I’m pretty sure he wants to. It would have been great to go out together, but it’s not meant to be. He’s still got that passion and that drive to keep going.
“For me, I just had to think about myself and not worry about what Benji was doing. It’s about myself and my body and my headspace and what I think I can give. I just don’t think I can give 100 per cent if I go on next year, and that’s what it came down to.”
Wests Tigers are still in finals contention but whatever happens this season, we will see a united end to the Robbie and Benji story. A story of great mates. Of black and gold brothers.