As the 2020 NRL season draws closer, the inevitable predictions about who will make the top eight begin doing the rounds.
Andrew Fifita has slammed a perceived lack of recognition from Cronulla for his deeds with Tonga, believing it reflects a widespread lack of respect for the island nation.
Outspoken prop Fifita will play against his former Kangaroos team in Saturday’s Test at Mt Smart Stadium, where Mate Ma’a Tonga will hope to recapture the magic of last year’s extraordinary World Cup campaign.
The face of international rugby league changed last year when former Kangaroos prop Fifita joined forces with Jason Taumalolo and a handful of other Kiwis, transforming Tonga into a World Cup force who narrowly missed a place in the final.
Fifita’s late decision to pull out of the Australian World Cup squad caused a backlash and he feels he is still paying a price.
The Sharks acknowledged Kangaroos players Aaron Woods and Valentine Holmes in official social media posts over the past week, along with their Junior Kangaroos representatives.
“If I was in Australia the club would be proud that I was in it (but) I am still waiting for my Instagram post that I am playing for Tonga from the club,” Fifita said.
“And I remember our CEO sitting there (at a Cronulla presentation) and giving all the credits to all the Australian players and Junior Kangaroos, and I was waiting for my name to be called, just for representing on the international stage. There was no Tonga, no PNG for Chico (James Segeyaro) and that.
“I just wish our little tier two nations could be recognised too. I don’t think we are there yet but if our team goes out and gets the job done on the weekend I guess we will be known as a forceful team.”
Fifita, who has played seven Tests for both nations, recalls the public backlash after he switched camps a year ago – two days after being unveiled in Mal Meninga’s Australian World Cup squad.
The 29-year-old accepts he left the decision later than he should have but was unimpressed at what he labelled ignorant opinion directed towards he and Taumalolo.
“We copped a lot of criticism first from players and from journos and a lot of Australian people and New Zealand people.
“I’m very grateful I come from two nationalities. If you haven’t got two nationalities, you shouldn’t talk on what I’m feeling and how we feel about our countries.”
A trip to Tonga in 2016 prompted Fifita to consider a change, even though it would impact on his NSW State of Origin prospects and leave a hole in his pocket.
He and Taumalolo were adamant they should follow their heart while still in their prime, rather than at the end of their careers.
“Everyone said thank you for doing it. We kind of made the World Cup exciting.”