The bond that ties Farah and Marshall
WINNING STARTS MONDAY
No rift ... Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. Photo: Getty Images
Benji Marshall's public show of emotion after the passing of Robbie Farah's mother should finally have dispelled rumours of bad blood between Wests Tigers' two biggest stars.
Marshall, who also lost his father, Mick Doherty, to pancreatic cancer two years ago, was reduced to tears as he and the other Tigers and Sydney Roosters players observed a minute's silence before Sunday's kick-off at Leichhardt Oval in honour of Sonia Farah.
The star playmaker and his club captain have both become sick of denying the constant speculation about their relationship, which intensifies whenever the Tigers aren't winning games.
Matthew Johns raised it earlier this year in the midst of the Tigers five-match losing streak when he asked Farah on NRL On Fox whether it was true that he and Marshall had fallen out and no longer talked to each other.
"Come down to training, spend a day at our club and you tell me if you've seen a more tight-knit group than what we've got at the Tigers," Farah replied.
"These rumours always come up year in, year out, when we've lost a couple of games and it's absolute bullshit and it pisses me off and it pisses Benji off."
But Johns did not help to quell the speculation when he later referred to Farah's complaint about being "ambushed" on the program by saying: "It's not nice being called a dickhead. Now I know what Benji feels like".
Since then, the rumours have lingered in the background - as they have for several years - while the Tigers won seven consecutive games until Sunday's 42-28 defeat by the Roosters, but surely the scenes before the match will ensure they don't resurface if the team keeps losing.
Any doubts about Farah's toughness have also been put paid to - not only by the events of the past week, but the eight months since Farah's 63-year-old mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Few have known what Farah and his family have been going through since he suddenly changed flights at Heathrow airport last November after learning the news and returned home from the Four Nations tour rather than go to Berlin with team-mates.
Some had suggested Farah's decision was related to his disappointment at being overlooked for the Test against England at Wembley the day before but it has since emerged that even then he knew his mother did not have long to live.
While coping with that, the 28-year-old has also had to put up with claims that the Tigers forward were "soft" and he wasn't an Origin player but Farah proved the critics wrong last Wednesday night.
Playing football has no doubt helped to take Farah's mind off his mother's suffering but each of his record 63 Origin tackles in NSW's gutsy 16-12 win were made in the belief that she was watching from a private box provided by ANZ Stadium.
He and other family members in the Blues dressing room did not let on how serious Sonia's inability to attend what proved to be her son's proudest moment was, with Robbie's brother Eddie telling the Herald she was in hospital for a "routine" matter.
But Farah's comments afterwards created a moving image that has since proved hard to erase.
"I was looking for her," Farah said. "I thought she was up there somewhere, but she watched it on telly in hospital … I am told she watched the whole game and she is obviously very proud."
Cancer is one of the nation's biggest killers, with one in two people expected to be diagnosed with some form of cancer by the time they are 85 and about 45,000 Australians dying each year.
However, it seems extraordinary that two players involved in Origin II could be going through similar ordeals at the same time, with the mother of Queensland prop Matt Scott battling throat cancer.
Scott was given leave from the Maroons camp to visit his mother Diane, who used to drive her son and his team-mates four hours to home games and up to eight hours for away games from the remote Central Queensland town of Ilfracombe where he grew up.
Farah's mother was also an inspiration for the Tigers hooker and one of his greatest supporters when he was growing up playing juniors for Enfield Federals and Leichhardt Wanderers.
It is, therefore, timely that the game will pay tribute to them and other mothers in this weekend's Women in League round.
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