Sheens as kindly ‘dad’ and brothers’ tough love make Farah’s title quest a family affair
September 16, 2011
Robbie Farah knows who to thank for turning him into a proud Tigers captain, writes Michael Chammas.
The best coaches can turn football teams into families and, according to Robbie Farah, that is what Tim Sheens has done at Wests Tigers.
So high is Farah’s opinion of Sheens, he does not hesitate to liken him to a father. It’s no wonder Farah has such a clear memory of the first time they met.
It was eight years ago. Farah was 19. Sheens still had a little colour in his hair. And Wests Tigers hadn’t reached the joint venture’s first semi-finals.
One premiership, 168 NRL games, two State of Origin appearances and three Tests later, Farah tells the story vividly.
He had been appointed captain of Balmain’s Jersey Flegg team and Sheens, in his first year at the Wests Tigers, was catching a glimpse of the future talent at his disposal. The boy in the No.9 jersey caught his eye.
‘‘We were playing the Roosters in a trial at Leichhardt Oval and it would’ve been the first game Sheensy ever watched me play,’’ Farah said. ‘‘I played pretty well that day. I think I scored three tries in the first half and we were leading by 50, so the coach took me off and said to have an early mark. I was in the showers at Leichhardt and Sheensy walked down and just said: ‘Well played’.’’ It was all Farah needed.
Sport is defined by its moments - that catch, or that pass. For Farah, it was that conversation.
Farah admits he ‘‘always had the talent but not the work ethic’’.
Even when he made his first-grade debut later that year, his dedication still did not match his skills.
But the following year, when a knee injury brought his season to a premature end, Farah’s character began to evolve into that of a future leader.
‘‘The knee injury was the best thing that happened to me,’’ he said.
‘‘I had to knuckle down and work hard to get back, otherwise I would’ve found myself going straight out the back door. It made me mentally tougher and made me grow up a bit. I came back from that knee reconstruction just before the start of the 2005 season, and everyone knows what happened that year.’’
Robbie Farah is Wests Tigers through and through. His partner, Ashleigh Adams, might not want to hear him say ‘‘I love this club more than anything,’’ but it reflects his passion for the Tigers.
But if it wasn’t for the Enfield Federals folding in the mid-1990s, Farah might have been a Bulldog.
He played with Enfield in the Canterbury district until he was 12, but the demise of the club saw him move to the Leichhardt Wanderers in the Balmain competition, ensuring he’d come up the ranks with black and gold blood pumping in his veins.
With three older brothers - Eddie, David and Jason - watching his every move, there was no danger his ego would get the better of him.
Every try he scored was criticised and every win was analysed.
‘‘They were pretty hard on me as a kid,’’ Farah said.
‘‘Whenever I played a good game or I thought I did well, they always picked out the bad stuff.’’
Almost nine years separates Farah and his oldest brother, Jason, while there is four years between Farah and his closest sibling, Eddie.
Needless to say, football games in the Farah household were ruthless.
‘‘If he wanted to join our games, we expected him to keep the standard up,’’ Eddie said.
''He had to shape up or ship out. He copped it a fair bit, especially from David. They are both very competitive and stubborn. As a junior, Robbie was always competitive, always one of the better players in the team, always wanted to be captain and always wanted to be involved.
‘‘We didn’t play footy, except in school, so we loved going along to all of Robbie’s games to watch him. It’s not like we were tough on him so he could play first grade, that was something we never dreamed about. It was just the way we were around each other.’’
Despite his brothers’ best efforts, Farah never won a junior grand final. It haunted him for years.
So much so, that on the eve of the 2005 grand final against the Cowboys, the memories of past failures came flooding back.
He was convinced he was cursed. ‘‘I lost every grand final I ever played in,’’ he said. ‘‘I played four rugby league grand finals, lost them all. Cricket grand final, touch footy grand finals, lost them all. Coming into the 2005 grand final, I thought I’d be the bad luck. But I won the one that mattered most.’’