Club loyalty?Now you’ll pay
Farah's willingness to help his club out has landed him in the middle of his own crisis.
In the National Rugby League, there’s little difference between prime beef and chuck steak. Just ask Robbie Farah.
It wasn’t that long ago that his club thought so much of him that they agreed to make him one of the highest paid players in the game – a milliondollar man and the centrepiece of a Wests Tigers' re-build.
Part of that make-over at Tigers HQ, however, was also head coach Jason Taylor. Given the green light by club management to renovate the playing roster in the hope of sending the joint-venture organisation back to the playoffs, Taylor, rightly so, figures that paying a veteran hooker a sevenfigure salary is counter-productive to having a balanced salary cap.
To say that the Tigers have been ham-fisted in their search for a solution to this issue would be the understatement of the decade. Farah was told he was free to find another club and was presented with the prospect, if there were no takers elsewhere for his services, of serving out his contract playing lower-grade football.
When the second of those two propositions became reality in July, the Tigers ignominiously achieved a first for an NRL club – having its highest-paid player be considered unworthy of playing at the elite level.
It’s the club’s prerogative and Jason Taylor’s responsibility to pick the team that takes the field each weekend, and while they see it as the best course for the Tigers’ future, at some point a club must also be responsible for the decisions it has made in the past. When you add in the fact that Farah is only earning in the region of $1m dollars because he agreed to defer payments as the club worked its way through previous salary cap mismanagement and poor recruitment decisions, you can understand why the 32-yearold is more than a li le miffed with the club he won a premiership with in 2005.
Farah’s willingness to help his club out of one predicament has landed him smack, bang in the middle of his own crisis. In a game that requires nothing less than total commitment to play, the Tigers are willing to turn a blind eye to the commitment they made to the greatest player in the club’s 17-season history and consign him to an inglorious end to his career if it helps them erase the mistakes of their past.
Defenders of the Tigers’ position will say that no player, no ma er his status or pay packet, is entitled to a guaranteed position in first grade. They’re right, but only to the extent that form is the sole criteria for picking the team. If you believe that Farah’s form – and his form only – is the reason he is stranded on 247 NRL games, well, I have some prime Gold Coast swampland I’d like to sell you that comes with magnificent water views.
It would be easy to say this is the way modern sport works. That loyalty is a quaint notion that disappeared with the advent of full-time professionalism. The truth, however, lies closer to the idea that well-run football departments have a continuity of thought and a clear roadmap to the future that avoids the mistakes of looking for quick fixes and the churning of coaches that plagues perennial underachievers.
The Tigers, by any definition, are the posterchild for underachievement. Perhaps the recent ownership restructure the club underwent will sharpen its ability to return to premiership contention. Winning, aer all, cures all ills. But you wonder whether the collateral damage of being seen to have a lack of regard for a champion of its past means the Tigers can ever really be the club it would like to be in the future.