Robbie Farah looks set to play on with Wests Tigers next NRL season despite the expected arrival of hooker Matt Ballin as the soap opera at Leichhardt resumes.
While the Tigers were hoping for a fresh start when players returned to start pre-season training at Leichhardt Oval on Monday, it was the same old story as confusion and controversy reigned and a big media contingent buzzed around.
NSW Origin hooker Farah was on hand, having seemingly won his stare down with coach Jason Taylor, who had encouraged him to look for another club more than two months ago despite having two years left on his contract.
There was no sign of animosity as he worked alongside Taylor during the side’s first session of the season and Taylor appeared to concede he would be staying.
“That’s still totally Robbie’s call but as long as that’s his attitude, if Robbie decides he wants to stay for the season, then absolutely he’ll be here,” Taylor said.
But the question remains whether Farah will be picked for first grade next season with former Sea Eagles hooker Ballin on the cusp of signing with the Tigers.
Farah has maintained he was originally told he’d been dropped to reserve grade if he stayed.
Taylor could not guarantee Farah would be the club’s first-choice hooker on Monday, despite being the incumbent NSW State of Origin No.9 – a situation the coach conceded was unusual.
Whether Ballin will be ready for round one also remains to be seen – the 31-year-old suffered a season-ending ACL injury in late August and faced a six-month rehabilitation, putting him in a race against the clock to be fit for the season start.
Taylor said Farah, like every other player, would be considered on form and the decision would be based around his performance during the pre-season.
Taylor was also forced to defend his relationship with his charges after a weekend report painted a savage picture of the club’s treatment of its players.
News Corp reported that the initial findings of an independent report commissioned by the Players’ Association found that 85 per cent of players at the club complained of unacceptable conditions.
Taylor strongly defended his relationship with his players and the club’s player welfare record.
“I refute that absolutely and that is so far from the mark it’s not funny,” Taylor said.
“While we haven’t had a great rating as far as our welfare goes in the past, and when I say that I mean the 2014 season rating, because the NRL look at that with every club.
“We’re confident that we’ve improved that and we’ll improve that going forward.
“As far as my relationship with the players, I stand by that 100 per cent and it’s a really strong relationship that I have with a majority of the players.”