Hooker misses Marshall but its looking forward to the open spaces of Eden Park.

When you've played as long as Robbie Farah, change is bound to occur but the hooker admits it will still feel strange when he looks up from dummy-half and realises Benji Marshall isn't there.

The two made their NRL debuts for the Wests Tigers in 2003 and both experienced the highs and not inconsiderable lows over an 11-year period.

Farah is likely to remain at the Tigers for the rest of his career after last year signing a new four-year deal but Marshall has quit the club and the game to try his hand at rugby union with the Blues.

Rumours often swirled about a breakdown in their personal relationship - something Farah constantly quashed - but they were once very tight and the pair's relationship on the field helped them to the premiership in 2005.


"It feels strange without him," Farah admitted. "When you have played your career with him alongside you, you expect him to be there. I have one by one seen a lot of good friends leave the club and now Benji. It's difficult when that happens but it's part of rugby league these days and you just have to move on."

The next assignment for Farah is this weekend's Auckland Nines. The Wests Tigers have endured a difficult couple of seasons - they were second-last in 2013 and missed the playoffs the previous season - and have been installed as second-most likely behind the Eels to pick up the wooden spoon in this year's NRL.

At one stage they were second favourites for the Auckland Nines but have fallen back after leaving out exciting youngsters Luke Brooks and Tim Simona. They are in arguably the toughest pool alongside the Sharks, Knights and Titans. The top two sides from each pool progress to the quarter-finals.

Farah has some experience of smaller-sided games having played for Lebanon in the 2003 Rugby League World Sevens and hopes he can stand out in the nines with his darting runs out of dummy-half.

"I'm a bit creative ... so hopefully I can exploit the open spaces," he said. "It's going to be a tough game physically and the fitness is going to be tested early in the season. Hopefully I can catch the big boys napping around the middle of the park.

"I'm really excited by the nines and I think it's going to be a concept that's around for a long time."

At 30, and with more than 200 NRL games, it's only natural Farah sees himself as something of a mentor for the youngsters. He's hungry for one more taste of success. "When you have success early on in your career, you kind of expect it to happen more often than not. The fact is winning the NRL is very difficult.

"We have been in the semifinals a few times since [winning in 2005] but, unfortunately, haven't gone all the way.

"It makes you appreciate the opportunities you get and how hard you have to work to get there."

5 Questions
1. How seriously should I take the Auckland Nines?

A number of clubs have indicated it's of secondary importance by leaving out their stars but it's still going to be arguably a better product than the Wellington Sevens with a lot more recognisable players and fewer blowouts. It's not going to give much of an indication of which teams will do well in this year's NRL because it's a different game, but it will be highly competitive and should be exciting.

2. Who will be playing?

Sadly, the likes of Greg Inglis, Sonny Bill Williams, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Sam Burgess will be missing, but each club is required to send one of its top-five earners as well as 12 of its top 25 so there is a good smattering of well-known players headed by the likes of Ben Barba, Todd Carney, Shaun Johnson and Daly Cherry-Evans.

3. Who should do well?

The Titans, Panthers, Knights and Warriors have strong squads, as do the cash-strapped Sharks who could do with the winners' purse of A$370,000 ($398,276) to help pay their Asada fine of A$600,000. The Roosters, Storm, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles - last year's top four - have sent below-strength squads as they clearly focus on the NRL and, as unusual as it might seem, it's reflected in their standing at the bookies - only the Raiders and Bulldogs are seen as bigger outsiders.

4. Which players should stand out?

At first glance, nines seems suited to fast outside backs and ball-playing second-rowers - and it is - but there is still a place for the big-man in the game. With teams unable to commit three or four defenders to each tackle like they do in the NRL, big men who can offload such as Andrew Fifita, James Tamou, Willie Mason and David Taylor are sure to be dangerous.

5. What should I wear?

Hats are de rigueur this year, apparently, but mankinis are not. And nor is urinating on the fence of residents around Eden Park.
Organisers are trying to limit the intake of alcohol in the hope it doesn't turn into a Wellington Sevens, which is more about what happens off the park than on it, or see a repeat of ugly scenes at a Four Nations double-header at Eden Park in 2010.