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NRL 2022 Radar: Crucial year for Fifita to provide value at Titans

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Expert
8th December, 2021
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David Fifita copped a lot of criticism last season even though he had a very good year in a lot of ways.

And that’s the problem – when you join a club on a record-breaking multimillion-dollar three-year deal, very good is not good enough. You’re expected to be nothing other than great.

The 22-year-old forward’s second season in Titans colours will define his long-term success at the club.

With the representative star being able to negotiate with rival clubs for 2024 when the calendar turns over to November 1 there will be all sorts of speculation next season and planted stories played out in media outlets about whether Fifita is committed to the Gold Coast.

When you get offered a shed-load more money to leave Brisbane and join the little brothers down the highway, there will always be a suspicion that your attachment to your new team is incentivised by the financial aspect rather than any great desire to wear the jersey.

In other words, if it took a bunch of extra zeroes on the contract to get Fifita away from the Broncos, they may be able to get him back without having to pay massive overs like the Titans did.

Fifita became one of only five forwards in premiership history to score more than 15 tries in a regular season when he notched 17 for the Titans last season.

That’s a fine achievement but it got lost on a lot of NRL fans who screamed at him in frustration after expecting more from a player who often seemed to lurk on the edges or try a fancy kick on attack when the opposition defence was praying he didn’t stick the ball under a muscular wing and rip right through them.

David Fifita of the Titans in action

David Fifita (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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Gold Coast learned a valuable lesson from the debacle that was the short-lived, high-priced and ill-fated recruitment of Jarryd Hayne after his career detour to the NFL and rugby sevens.

He was given preferential treatment and the notoriously lazy trainer took advantage of it by coasting while cashing in gold.

The club then set about instilling a culture where everybody had to work hard and irrespective of their salary, all players needed to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

And in Fifita’s first year on the Coast, he was shielded from the media for weeks on end during the season while lower-profile teammates fronted up to the mandatory sessions.

Titans coach Justin Holbrook’s squad enters the upcoming season with higher expectations than their 2021 campaign which ended with qualification in eighth place and a 25-24 exit at the hands of the Roosters in the first round of the playoffs.

With the continued rise of young talent like fullback Jayden Campbell and halfback Toby Sexton along with the additions of Roosters veteran forward Isaac Liu, the team is expected to make the leap into top-four contention.

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The likes of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika and AJ Brimson have continued their upward trajectory but the Titans’ hopes of becoming genuine title contenders are reliant on Fifita providing regular dominance over opposing packs.

Not flashes at certain points in games. Not by coming off the bench when opponents are tiring.

Whether it’s through internal motivation or the coach accepting nothing less, Fifita needs to up his involvement every game to give Gold Coast sustained periods where he takes over a game, a la Gorden Tallis in his Broncos heyday or Jason Taumalolo during the peak of his career a few years ago in North Queensland.

Otherwise the drums will again start beating about he’s only there for the money and his heart’s not truly in it, which will lead to the Broncos and other clubs fluttering their eyelashes and sending small fortunes in Fifita’s direction.

What’s new
Isaac Liu has long been an unsung member of the Roosters’ recent premiership success and although he’s on the wrong side of 30, he will give Gold Coast a dependable middle forward and a culture setter off the field. Eels utility Will Smith brings extra depth and versatility after Tyrone Peachey’s switch to Wests Tigers.
A few other familiar faces have moved on with Jamal Fogarty joining the Raiders, Ash Taylor training and trialing for his career at the Warriors, Mitch Rein heading to Parramatta and Anthony Don retiring.

Justin Holbrook

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

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Star on the rise
Toby Sexton showed poise and maturity in his first few games at NRL level and the club has shown their faith in the rookie halfback by releasing Jamal Fogarty to the Raiders. A natural playmaker, he could form a classy combination with AJ Brimson at five-eighth with Jayden Campbell entrusted with fullback duties.

Who’s under the pump
Titans management – it was a hefty financial investment in carving out more than $1 million a season for David Fifita and based on his first year at the club, the jury is still out on whether it’ll ultimately be judged a wise move.

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Best-case scenario
They can certainly get among the top-four equation if Fifita fires and they don’t have any injuries to their key players, particularly in the halves and hooker where their depth is not great.

Worst-case scenario
They’ve got talent in the spine but not a lot of experience so if Toby Sexton and Jayden Campbell suffer the dreaded second-year syndrome, the Titans could struggle to score points and drop out of the playoff picture.

Round 1 predicted team

1. Jayden Campbell
2. Phillip Sami
3. Patrick Herbert
4. Brian Kelly
5. Corey Thomson
6. AJ Brimson
7. Toby Sexton
8. Moeaki Fotuaika
9. Erin Clark
10. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11. David Fifita
12. Kevin Proctor
13. Isaac Liu
14. Will Smith
15. Jarrod Wallace
16. Beau Fermor
17. Jaimin Jolliffe

Others: Tanah Boyd, Herman Ese’ese, Sosefo Fifita, Alofi’ana Khan-Pereira, Sam Lisone, Esan Marsters, Sam McIntyre, Greg Marzhew, Paul Turner, Joseph Vuna

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