There’s no debate, Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah must be given testimonials, writes Paul Kent
Paul Kent, The Daily Telegraph
May 3, 2019 7:26pm
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A fortnight ago Todd Greenberg was in the midst of doing the rounds to all 16 clubs, trying to sell what the players weren’t buying but making a mighty show of it.
Greenberg was taking the players through the NRL’s no fault stand down policy. Talk about a hostile crowd. The players felt injustice at hand. They fired questions and Greenberg remained up front, taking them as they lobbed.
There is no tougher job than trying to get the convinced to change position.
The NRL don’t want to give Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah a testimonial match. Art: Boo Bailey
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Inevitably hostilities cooled and the floor was opened for questions and while Greenberg was at Concord talking to Wests Tigers an arm shot up.
What happened next remains open for argument, but they are just details.
Robbie Farah believes he stood and asked Greenberg if the NRL would support a testimonial match for he and Benji Marshall.
Marshall believes he heard the same question.
Greenberg says no request for a match was made but says there was certainly interest in a dinner and even memorabilia to sell and he assured both players the NRL would support that.
The legendary Tigers pair won’t be granted their own special clash.
So no testimonial match, just a dinner once they have retired when they would not need NRL permission anyway, and a few autographed posters and framed lithographs.
Know that the game belongs to the likes of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah.
They are the two greatest figures in Wests Tigers club’s history, a club formed in 2000.
Nobody else comes near them.
Marshall and Farah are one and two, argue the order among yourselves, and yet there seems no appetite for the love like there was when, for reasons nobody can adequately explain, Cameron Smith was afforded a testimonial game for Melbourne even though he will go on to play at least three more seasons for his club after that match. Johnathan Thurston shared the testimonial match ahead of his last season for the Cowboys.
The pair have stayed close throughout their careers. Picture: Mark Evans
Smith’s testimonial seemed like a salary cap rort, a way for the club to pay the player money that would be outside the cap, but the NRL assured us it wasn’t.
Testimonial matches had disappeared from the game for a time once the salary cap era began. Without strict control they were an easy way to cheat the cap. Clubs - and not that I would accuse them of that - could simply negotiate a lower contract for a player with the quiet promise to compensate the money with a testimonial, so the player would still end up earning the amount he was negotiating for.
Not that I would accuse them of that.
The club could then simply divert the cap money to another player in the club to exploit the cap.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg revealed the match won’t happen. (AAP Image/Peter Rae)
To prove it was no rort for Smith and Thurston, though, a hurried set of criteria was applied that would satisfy all future testimonial requests.
The player must have played 250 games, they must have played 10 consecutive years for the club, which began as a one club rule but was adjusted, not gone overseas and played at Origin or Test level.
Soft measures also considered were potential off-field integrity issues, the player’s standing in the game, their contribution outside what they did for their club and a charity component.
Once applied to the three players who have recently received testimonials, though, the stringent policy immediately breaks down.
Thurston played for Canterbury before he played for North Queensland, hence the adjustment.
John Sutton did not play Origin or Test football.
Cameron Smith will play three more seasons after his testimonial game last year, which hardly fits a testimonial mood.
The NRL concedes a discretionary call was made on all three, particularly Sutton, who got his testimonial this season after Souths fans began assembling in an agitated mood.
Yet the NRL has no mood for a testimonial for Farah and Marshall, which shows a total dismissal to their contribution to Wests Tigers.
Marshall brought more children to the game than any player of his time. The sidestep, the flickpass, they became a staple at every after school game played by 10-year-olds down at the local park.
The club greats delivered Wests Tigers the 2005 premiership.
Farah is the game’s greatest survivor. Last year he played just three games for Souths after the Rabbitohs voted for their future with Damien Cook. Finally, Marshall called Farah saying the Tigers needed a dummy-half and coach Ivan Cleary re-signed him on whatever money was left in the salary cap.
There are various reasons the NRL believes both do not qualify.
Marshall left the NRL to first play rugby in New Zealand and then returned through St George Illawarra and Brisbane.
Farah because he played for Souths.
That Marshall went 12 unbroken years before leaving and Farah into his 13th season does not seem to count. It happened at the wrong end of their careers.
It has been dismissed that both left the Tigers, with their cracked hearts bleeding, because new coaches arrived at the club keen to put their stamp down and both were told they were not welcome.
Beware any coach that feels the need to go in a new direction.
There is hope, though.
It begins on Saturday night against the Sydney Roosters, with the fans, who must get to the Sydney Cricket Ground with big signs and loud voice and tell the NRL what they mean to them. Both mean as much to the Tigers as Sutton does to Souths, or Thurston and Smith to their clubs.
Meanwhile, and in great favour for Marshall and Farah, it is not up to the NRL in the first place to decide policy.
The NRL wrote the rules but the ARL Commission drives policy. It is their job.
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Given their charter is to foster the game surely that leaves enough room for the Commission to intervene and give two of its greatest endorsements the ending they deserve.
The NRL is also unsure whether the Tigers would agree to give away a home game for their players, even given their contribution.
What game would be suitable?
Well, the Tigers play their final home and away game this season in round 25, a 2pm Sunday game at Leichhardt Oval that stands out like a ripe tomato.
Just a touch of imagination would be required to match the moment 29 years ago when another favourite son, Wayne Pearce, walked tearfully around the same oval covered in streamers and fans got the chance to show there really can be love in the game.
It would be the easiest sell in the game and it must happen.
Switching clubs is a factor going against both players. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Few realise the sacrifice they are making for their club.
Cleary was honest with both last year when they told him they wanted to push on for another season. He told them there was not a lot of money left at the club but once the roster was sorted he would give whatever was left in the cap to them.
Then the Tigers got busted for not disclosing an agreement with Farah three years back and the big book got thrown at them from headquarters.
The NRL levelled Wests with a $639,000 salary cap penalty. Thankfully, the League allowed the Tigers to spread the penalty over two seasons, which is the only thing saving them to the game.
Once the fine was thrown in it meant they are now playing this season for slightly more than the NRL’s minimum wage.
Clearly their days of commanding marquee money are gone but, such is their commitment to the club, which goes past love, they are squeezing the final days in black and gold for all they can get.
Given it all, a testimonial would seem the least the game can do.