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Lee Hagipantelis' speech at Robbie Farah's Testimonial Night

The below is a transcript of Wests Tigers Chair Lee Hagipantelis' speech at Robbie Farah's Testimonial Night this evening...

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Firstly, I address you as the Chairman of the Wests Tigers.

On behalf of Wests Tigers, I extend the club’s eternal appreciation and gratitude for a wonderful career punctuated of course by the magnificent Premiership win in 2005. I will speak more of Robbie’s contribution to the Wests Tigers shortly.

I also address you as the Principal of the major sponsor of the Wests Tigers, Brydens Lawyers. With any sponsorship of a large sporting organisation there is invariably a personal and professional component to the contractual arrangement.

As to the personal component I have been rewarded by the development of a genuine friendship with Robbie which has extended far beyond the confines of the relationship that ordinarily exists between a sponsor and one of the stars of the club that is being sponsored.

Professionally, I am also indebted to Robbie. The alignment of one’s brand with a commercial or sporting organisation is for the purpose of attracting a return on that investment which can be measured, in part, by an increase in brand awareness.

That is, there is an alignment between the brands in such a sponsorship arrangement and if, for whatever reason, there is an increase in publicity or brand awareness for the sponsored club, as there was time to time for the Wests Tigers, then by association there would also be a commensurate increase in brand awareness for Brydens Lawyers.

An elevation of brand awareness can occur in many ways.

For example, a club that wins a Premiership will provide, for the major sponsor, a significant level of media exposure and broader community interest which could result in a direct return for that sponsor.

Another example of a way that a major sponsor can have their brand elevated within the media and the broader community is for the Club to become embroiled in a controversy or some other difficulty which would result in that Club appearing, disproportionately, on the front or back page of the newspapers, or in fact the lead story on the evening news

I think you can see where I am going with this.

You see, controversies are generally reported upon far more extensively than what would be traditionally regarded as good news stories.

Dare I suggest for one moment that Robbie played any role whatsoever in anything controversial during the time that Brydens Lawyers has sponsored the Wests Tigers but as the Principal of Brydens Lawyers I do wish to thank him personally for having, on a number of occasions, the Brydens Lawyers logo emblazoned, high wide and handsome, across the front page of every newspaper or the lead story on the evening news.

The third hat which I wear is that of friend.

I have known Robbie for some time now. I have gotten to know him pretty well. There are a number of similarities.

We are both of ethnic descent yet proud Australians. We are family orientated. There is a burning drive to be successful in our chosen and respective fields.

There is a mutual respect.

And from myself personally, I thank Robbie for the friendship.

For the purpose of preparing this evening’s address I thought it appropriate that I undertake at least some perfunctory research to include the usual statistics and figures that one would reference in a tribute of this kind.

For example, the number of games that Robbie played for the Wests Tigers, the number of times that Robbie appeared for the NSW State of Origin Blues, the number of times that Robbie turned out for the Lebanese Cedars.

In order to undertake this research, my first port of call was Google. I entered Robbie’s name into the search bar and, as most of you would be aware, when one undertakes such a search of something or someone on Google, there is invariably, amongst the usual results of the enquiry, a provision for:

"People also searched for…".

Often it is said that one can tell much of a man's character by the quality of the persons with whom they associate. They say that like attracts like.

Therefore, I thought it would be a helpful introspective of Robbie, the man and the myth, by considering those who were identified in my Google search as persons who have become readily identified with Robbie Farah.

The first person identified as being someone also searched for was Benji Marshall.

This was not unexpected. The careers of Benji and Robbie have to a large extent mirrored each other.  There have been incredible similarities enjoyed by both of them with their success at the Wests Tigers in 2005, for a short time both departing the Club for greener pastures or arid terrain and then ultimately returning.

Both have been incredible servants to the game of rugby league generally and to the Wests Tigers specifically.

The second person identified as being somehow connected or related to the search results for Robbie Farah was somewhat more curious.

It was Jason Taylor.

It is difficult to readily discern how any association between Robbie Farah and Jason Taylor would have attracted sufficient interest to have engaged Google analytics to provide for Jason Taylor as the second highest ranking person also searched for in association with Google searches of Robbie Farah.

I for one did not fully appreciate the nature and extent of the sincerity and generosity of the relationship that must have existed as between Robbie and Jason Taylor that would have resulted in what may seem a somewhat anomalous outcome with the elevation of Jason Taylor to the second highest ranking person also searched for in connection with a search of Robbie Farah on Google.

Thereafter, those identified as being related to the search of Robbie Farah fall within a familiar category. They include Michael Maguire, Robbie’s last NRL coach, Moses Mbye, Josh Reynolds, Luke Brooks and Chris Lawrence.

All current players for the Wests Tigers. All teammates of Robbie’s.

All close friends.

Tonight is about honouring Robbie Farah. It is an opportunity to acknowledge his contribution to the Wests Tigers and to the game of rugby league. It is an opportunity to acknowledge a contribution that goes far beyond the fulfilment of Robbie’s obligations as a professional rugby league player.

Robbie Farah has become synonymous with the Wests Tigers.

He debuted for the Wests Tigers in 2003, not long after the joint venture was formed.

Not long before the joint-venture celebrated its first Premiership win.

With premiership success in 2005 Robbie Farah has woven himself into the fabric of the Wests Tigers. He has come to epitomise the resilience, the dedication, the commitment and the insatiable drive to win that we look to define the Wests Tigers today.

The 2005 premiership winning team remains the benchmark.

Every team fielded by the Wests Tigers in every year since has sought to emulate the success and brotherhood of the 2005 team. 

I was only recently afforded the honour of hosting most of the 2005 team at a luncheon. What struck me, apart from the obvious regard that each team member held for the other and the amount of alcohol that can be consumed in a relatively short period of time, was the manner in which Robbie was acknowledged and respected by all those present even though, in 2005, Robbie was one of the very junior members of that team.

This in itself spoke to me of Robbie’s presence and aura.

How a boy of such tender years was received and accepted by hardened rugby league men to be their equal and a brother. 

Robbie Farah is an enigma. As I said, a proud Australian of Lebanese descent. He has successfully traversed both cultures and done so by investing so much pride in who he is, what he does and the jumper he wears.

He was as proud to wear the green and gold of Australia as he was the sky blue of NSW as he was the red, white and green of the Lebanese Cedars, or the black, white and gold of his beloved Wests Tigers.

Along with players such as Hazem El Masri, Robbie can take pride in the knowledge that he has been responsible for the introduction of a game to a whole new audience who would not have been traditionally regarded as rugby league followers.

The enthusiasm and pride with which Robbie played was infectious.

It permeated throughout the entire playing roster.

And, if for any reason, any member of the playing group dipped in their level of enthusiasm or commitment or drive, then Robbie Farah was there to remind them of their obligations to themselves, their teammates and their jumper.

Tonight you will hear much of what Robbie Farah has achieved. Wests Tigers captain for many years. Daly M hooker of the year. Rugby League International Federation team of the year. Wests Tigers Life Member. 300 plus NRL games.

All important milestones.

All achievements of which any rugby league player would be proud to call their own.

But for me, the mark of the man is what cannot be readily measured. It is what will not be found in the record books.

Robbie Farah's legacy will be defined by how he is perceived by the true believers, the fans and members of the Wests Tigers.

For them Robbie Farah goes far beyond the realms of a retired footballer and to the Wests Tigers faithful, he has entered legendary status.

Nothing captured the essence of Robbie Farah more than the manner in which he farewelled the game of rugby league on that fateful day in September last year when, unbeknownst to anyone but perhaps himself, Robbie managed to play one more game at Leichhardt Oval.

For a man with a flair for the dramatic, was it any surprise?

As Chair of the Wests Tigers I offer my profound congratulations to Robbie Farah on an incredible football career. I extend to him the appreciation and gratitude of a Club, its fans and members for having honoured us by wearing the jumper of the Wests Tigers, worn with such pride and passion.

As the Principal of Brydens Lawyers I thank Robbie Farah for what he has done to elevate the alignment of my firm’s brand with that of the Wests Tigers. He has proven to be an honourable and worthy ambassador for Brydens Lawyers, both on and off the field.

As a friend, I say well done. Robbie, you should be incredibly proud of all that you have achieved as we are proud of you.

Tonight we have acknowledged your milestones in the game of rugby league.

We have feted a career that comprises over 300 NRL games and representation of two sovereign nations.

However, these achievements will ultimately be confined in the annals of history.

What however will remain and what has left an indelible impression on the heart and soul of the true believers, is the character of the man and the generosity of spirit, the passion and the pride with which he played the game and represented our great club.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Robbie Farah: the man, the footballer, the legend.

Thank you.

Acknowledgement of Country

Wests Tigers respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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