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, a–er 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.

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