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Benji and Robbie revelling in 'Grandpa' roles

There was nothing said, no hand signals or any other form of communication but when Robbie Farah darted to his right out of dummy half during an opposed training session, Benji Marshall instinctively started running towards the left post and was in position to swoop on his fellow stalwart’s kick and score.

"It was mad. We both just looked at each other and started laughing," Marshall said. "We don’t even have to call plays anymore."

After being reunited at Wests Tigers for the final eight rounds of last year’s Telstra Premiership, they are enjoying their 13th pre-season together since first meeting in 2002.

In the time since the only real change at Concord Oval has been the faces of their teammates and coaching staff.

Among them are rookie five-eighth Tommy Talau, whose father Willie was still playing for Canterbury in Marshall’s debut season.

"A few of the boys' birth dates are 2002," Marshall said. "In 2002, I was doing pre-season training here."

It feels like the universe is back in order, it feels like home.

Benji Marshall

Farah said: "Everybody makes jokes about me and Benji, they call us granddads and fossils."

It’s a role Marshall and Farah are thriving in after being given the chance to finish their illustrious careers together after winning a premiership together and each playing more than 200 games for the Tigers.

On the eve of their first full season together in six years and possibly the last for the lone survivors of the joint venture’s only grand final triumph in 2005, Marshall and Farah spoke about the pre-season, playing with each other, new Tigers coach Michael Maguire and the legacy they hope to leave.

Wests Tigers season preview - NRL Teams

Return to glory days

"We laugh about it but 2005 is obviously the only success that this club has had," Farah said.

"It is disappointing that we haven’t reached those heights since 2005 and I know for Benji and I, before we do move on, we want to make sure the club can get back to that level in the not too distant future.

"Being the older guys we are trying to pass on as much knowledge as we can to the younger blokes so they know what it takes to reach those sort of heights."

Marshall, in particular, used to feel the weight of expectation on his shoulders as the Tigers star playmaker and the scrutiny took its toll.

After leaving the club at the end of the 2013 season following a dispute over a promised contract offer, he spent four seasons elsewhere - a short sting in rugby union in New Zealand, then with St George Illawarra and Brisbane - before returning last season.

Now 34 and a father after wife Zoe gave birth to a son, Fox, last year, Marshall is more relaxed and has been advising his younger teammates how to avoid the pressure he once felt.

"It might sound funny but I enjoy being a dad way more than I enjoy footy," Marshall said. "I am in a hurry to go home these days just to see him or to get home before he goes to bed.

"It just takes the pressure away from footy being everything, because it’s not. I turn up here every day in the best mood – better than all of these dudes. Some of them turn up a bit unhappy, I turn up happy every day.

"I know what it is like to be in a shit place and I know what it is like to be at the top. Rugby league is just a game really, but sometimes we make it out to be more than that and we can stress so bad that it becomes our everything.

"That is the message I try to push to the boys. I love being like the grandfather here. I pride myself on players being able to come and talk to me about anything."

Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah.
Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Homecoming

Farah is also enjoying his second stint with the Wests Tigers after leaving in acrimonious circumstances in 2016.

"It’s a dream come true being back here and I know, having spoken with Benji, that it’s the same for him, too. I see him every day and he just walks in with a big smile on his face, and I’m the same. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be back at the Tigers to finish my career."

Marshall reached out to the club on several occasions after returning to the NRL with the Dragons midway through the 2014 season but he only returned last year under Ivan Cleary.

"It feels like the universe is back in order, it feels like home," he said.

"I actually pinch myself every day when I drive to training at just how lucky and privileged I am to be back here.

"You probably don’t understand that until that opportunity gets taken away from you."

Wests Tigers teammates Robbie Farah (left) and Benji Marshall.
Wests Tigers teammates Robbie Farah (left) and Benji Marshall. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Pre-season

However, the pair weren’t welcomed back to the Tigers for sentimental reasons and have been making their mark at pre-season training in a bid to earn a starting position in the team to face Manly next Saturday.

"I know everyone loves talking about new guys and young guys coming in but I reckon Robbie has been the standout of the pre-season," Marshall said. "He has been leading the way in all the fitness sessions and he looks faster than last year.

"It looks like he has got a new lease of life and is happy. This pre-season he has just gone to another level so I am pretty pumped that we will get the full season together rather than just the back end of the season like we did last year."

Robbie on Benji

Marshall is such a freakish talent that commentators would often say even he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got the ball but Farah said the pair have a unique understanding of each other’s games.

"Not too many players I have seen in this game can do the things that Benji does and I guess because I am so used to it we are on the same page," Farah said.

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"Sometimes we don’t even communicate, it is just a look.

"I felt that last year, coming back here in our first game together against the Dragons at Kogarah we just picked up where we left off. It’s like we never left and came back. It is pleasing I have got him alongside me out there and it makes me feel more comfortable."

Michael Maguire

A calf injury denied Marshall the opportunity to work with Maguire in New Zealand’s end-of-season Tests against Australia and England but he has been impressed with how the former South Sydney premiership-winning mentor is driving standards and developing leadership at the club.

"He’s not scared to talk about his experiences and when you hear him talk you listen because he’s been through it all, he’s won comps at Souths and he has been flicked from there and had a year off," Marshall said.

"Madge is so good at driving family and culture and really cares about you off the field because he understands that it is a big part of you performing on the field.

"He is genuine when he talks to you, he wants to know how your wife is and he knows everyone’s names."

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Farah played under Maguire at the Rabbitohs after leaving the Tigers in 2017 and when his name was mentioned as a replacement for Cleary he urged him to take the job.

"He is someone who has a lot of integrity about him, he is a very passionate man, very family orientated and someone I have a very good relationship with," Farah said.

"I not only think that he is the best coach for us at this point in time but I think he is going to be the best coach for this club for five, 10 or 15 years. I really think he is going to be a generation coach here and take this club back to where it belongs and that is winning premierships like we did in 2005."