I Want To Give Back To Lebanon: Farah
This article first appeared on NRL.com.
Great moments are born from great opportunity.
Those are the immortal words of coach Herb Brooks (portrayed by Kurt Russell in the film Miracle) ahead of the USA's shock win over the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics ice hockey gold medal match.
Robbie Farah has had some great moments throughout his lengthy career at both club and representative level, but arguably his most cherished came 15 years ago when he was given an unlikely opportunity to represent Lebanon in a game against France.
"The game was in November, and a couple of months before they had tryouts – I think it was at Leichhardt - but I was on tour with the Wests Tigers Cubs, which was like an under-18s team put together," he recalled.
"We were in New Zealand so I couldn't make the tryouts, but I really wanted to make the Lebanese side so I sent John Elias – he was the coach at the time – a highlights tape of me.
"He saw something in me from a highlights tape, and from all reports everyone was talking him out of picking me, but he wanted me in the side. He took me over pretty much unseen - the only time he'd ever seen me was from a highlights tape - and I got picked as the starting halfback.
"Hazem (El Masri) was our captain and I was in awe of the players around me. I was just a young kid, we went to Lebanon and we won 36-6. I started at halfback and scored the first try of the game and then there was a complete blackout as we were walking back to halfway after my try.
"We were all pretty worried because we didn't know what was going on and whether the game would continue or not. About 10 minutes later the generators kicked in and the lights came back on.
"It was a big win, 36-6, because France were ranked fourth in the world at the time so it was a massive win for us. It was one of the best tours of my life and some of my best friends to this day are guys I met on that tour from that team."
Farah has since won a premiership with the Wests Tigers and helped the NSW Blues orchestrate a stunning drought-breaking series win over Queensland in 2014, but it was his maiden Test cap as a teenager that stands above the rest.
With relatives in the stands, a cousin on the bench and family watching back in Sydney, it's a memory that will stay with Farah forever.
"Back home I know the family were watching it on TV with the uncles and the cousins. From all reports they were all in tears because it means a hell of a lot to them," he explained.
"When you think of my parents and my cousins' parents, they left their home town 40 or 50 years ago to come here to give their children a better life, but they've still got an emotional attachment to their motherland, so to see one of their kids pull on the colours of Lebanon, you can imagine how much it means to our parents.
"I was at my dad's house yesterday (Wednesday), actually, walking up his stairwell, and he's still got my framed Lebanon jersey from the one Test match I played up on the wall. It's been there for 15 years and I don't think it'll ever move."
Unable to remember much from his first trip to Lebanon with his mother and sister as a four-year-old, Farah has been back twice in the past few years.
The most recent trip saw the 33-year-old play tour guide to his brother, but it was his 2013 visit after the Rugby League World Cup that hits home the hardest for Farah who had lost his mother to cancer the previous year.
"I went back after the World Cup in 2013. I went straight to Lebanon for a week or so on my own," he recalled.
"Mum was one of 11 kids – my grandmother's still alive – and the majority of them are still in Lebanon. Since my mum passed away in 2012, I wanted to go over and see my mother's family and pay my respects and see them. That was a pretty emotional week for me. It was pretty tough going back there without mum because it brought back a lot of memories, which was tough."
Fifteen years after he was given a chance as an untested halfback, the creative No.9 now wants to give back to the Cedars on the game's biggest stage.
"I made the commitment to Lebanon last year. I had my time playing for Australia, and while I don't think I was ever a chance to get picked, my time was done and there's someone else in there now," he said.
"Even if it did get to a point where, say Cam (Kangaroos hooker, Cameron Smith) got injured or six other hookers – I don't know how many would be in front of me – got injured and I did get the call to play for Australia, I would have probably knocked that back because I'm really looking forward to giving back to Lebanon.
"That opportunity when I was an 18-year-old, I can't speak highly enough of how much that did for me and how much that improved me as a player. I'll never forget now at my age and the point I'm at in my career, I'm really looking forward to giving back to Lebanon."