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NRL News: Fifita picks his new club after dropping Titans bombshell, clubs warned whingeing players will be binned

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9th May, 2024
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David Fifita has agreed to join the Sydney Roosters after opting to walk out on Gold Coast at year’s end and turn his back on three-time defending-premiers Penrith.

Fifita told Roosters officials on Thursday he would take up a four-year deal with the NRL club, worth close to $3.3 million over four years.

The signing coup will help the Tricolours replace some of the X-factor they lose with the impending departures of Joey Manu and Joseph Aukuso-Suaalii this year.

Veterans Luke Keary and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will also finish up in the NRL this year, leaving the Roosters without 1000 games of experience.

“You want quality players, and (Fifita) is a quality player,” Roosters lock Victor Radley told AAP on Thursday.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 15: David Fifita of the Titans is tackled during the round seven NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium on April 15, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

David Fifita. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“He’s got the footwork, he’s a powerhouse. Fast. You don’t have many players that do all those things.

“He’s got the X-factor.”

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The news comes as a blow to both the Titans and Panthers.

The superstar second-rower had met with Gold Coast officials on Wednesday night, before officially confirming he would not activate the final two years of his contract there.

Coach Des Hasler insisted on Thursday he did not feel personally slighted by Fifita’s decision, and denied he was abandoning ship.

Re-signed to the Titans last year when Justin Holbrook was in charge, Fifita’s decision to exit the club comes after a 1-7 start to begin this year.

“I think that is unfair to say that he is abandoning the ship,” Hasler said.

“He has made a decision. It is not about abandoning ships. Everybody knew what was on the table.

“Not at all (do I take it personally). It is a decision Dave has made. We move on and keep playing.

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“It is disappointing, but it is all a part of the game and part of the theatre. It is part of the football merry-go-round that footballers come and go all the time.”

Fifita’s exit will free up the Titans’ salary cap from next year, and offers a chance to spend big on their next playmaker once Kieran Foran retires.

Hasler said he was not concerned about Tino Fa’asuamaleaui pulling a similar option in the future, given he is signed until 2033 but with options in his favour from 2027.

Penrith had initially been considered the front runner for the 24-year-old’s services, before being informed on Thursday they had missed out.

Keen to fill the void set to be left by James Fisher-Harris’ looming departure, the Panthers had planned on shifting Scott Sorenson into the front row next year to accommodate Fifita.

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As three-time defending champions, the Panthers were also theoretically in the best position to convince Fifita they could make him a premiership winner. But the wrecking-ball edge forward has instead opted to try and win that title at the Roosters.

His signing could also have implications in the NRLW, with Fifita’s partner Shaylee Bent off contract at the end of 2024 at the Titans and also able to join the Roosters.

Penrith could now turn their eye to off-contract Rooster Angus Crichton as their solution in the pack. The Panthers made an inquiry late last week with the 28-year-old’s management to get a lay of the land on his future options.

Crichton has previously expressed a desire to make a code switch to rugby union, and is exploring the option of linking with a French club. He could also theoretically fit into the Roosters’ cap, but that would leave either he, Fifita or Sitili Tupouniua playing off the bench.

Clubs warned whingeing players will be binned

NRL clubs have been warned to cut back on player dissent about refereeing decisions or they will end up in the sin bin more often as part of a crackdown for Round 10.

All 17 clubs were issued with the warning on Wednesday following the verbal sprays that were directed at Kasey Badger and other referees in recent weeks.

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Badger’s performance came under the microscope following an ill-tempered match between Canterbury and Wests Tigers that led to the referee sin-binning two players and the NRL dishing out $11,800 in fines.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo, who did not reference Badger by name, released a statement earlier in the week to say match officials deserved greater respect and head office has followed that up by warning clubs that harsher action will be taken this week if players continue to step out of line.

Referees will be encouraged to issue warnings, marching teams 10 metres, blow penalties or send players to the sin bin for more serious examples of dissent.

“The referees have to set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and they will be supported 100 per cent by the NRL if they set that line in the sand and they ensure those standards are upheld,” head of football Graham Annesley told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It is ultimately in the hands of the players. If the players don’t push the envelope, there will be no need for the referees to react.”

Badger has retained her spot in the NRL this weekend to officiate in her fourth match at the top level, Sunday’s Roosters vs Warriors clash at Allianz Stadium.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 04: Aidan Sezer of the Tigers is placed on report by referee, Kasey Badger during the round nine NRL match between Canterbury Bulldogs and Wests Tigers at Accor Stadium, on May 04, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Aidan Sezer is placed on report by referee Kasey Badger. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Capewell sidelined three weeks

The Warriors have been dealt a blow in their bid to snap a NRL losing streak against the red-hot Sydney Roosters as forward Kurt Capewell looks set to miss a crucial three-game run with injury.

The second-rower hobbled off with a calf complaint in the New Zealanders’ 14-8 loss against Newcastle on Sunday and will likely remain unavailable for four weeks, coach Andrew Webster revealed on Wednesday.

It couldn’t come at a worse time for the Warriors who, after a flying start to the season, are winless in their last four games and face a string of tough tests against the Roosters, reigning champions Penrith and the fourth-placed Dolphins.

The Warriors will need to address their ill-discipline if they are any chance of inflicting a surprise defeat against the free-scoring Tricolours, who have posted 100 points combined on their last two opponents.

“I think it’s smacking everyone straight in the face at the moment,” Webster said.

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“I don’t think you’ve got to be a genius to work out that we’re not giving ourselves the opportunity.”

The Warriors conceded nine penalties against the Knights and Webster said overeagerness was behind the raft of offside calls in recent weeks.

“The boys are keen to get line speed and be aggressive,” he said.

“They’re not checking in with the ref and they’re making it harder on themselves. I think we’ve created a lot of fatigue.

“We’re trying to swing punches at the end of the game … and I just feel like our attack is very clunky and slow and lethargic because we’re putting ourselves under so much pressure.”

The Warriors come into the match having lost their last seven encounters against the Roosters, but hooker Wayde Egan believes they are still in with a shot.

“We can beat any side on our day,” he said.

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“We’ve definitely got to watch their attack. They’re a very good team and they’ve got great players across their whole line-up.

“But it’s probably more of a week to get our game on and focus on ourselves. We’ve probably been letting ourselves down in key areas.”

Talisman Shaun Johnson is still not in full training with the rest of the squad as he is nursed back from an achilles injury.

But his fitness issues were no excuse for the team’s lacklustre performances, teammate Egan said, with a 40-metre try against Manly proof the veteran is still at his best.

Storm sure Sua’s up to key role

Melbourne skipper Harry Grant expects Sua Fa’alogo to handle his first start at fullback with aplomb after being mentored by two of the best in the business.

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Fa’alogo was handed the No.1 jersey in the absence of the injured Ryan Papenhuyzen with the Storm hosting Cronulla in a top-of-the-table blockbuster at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

The light-footed and skilful 21-year-old has already demonstrated his attacking prowess to bag three tries in his only two NRL matches.

Grant believes he will be up to the defensive workload at fullback after learning under Papenhuyzen and retired Storm great Billy Slater.

“It is a big job and that’s probably an underrated strength of Paps (Papenhuyzen), how he organises our defensive line,” Grant said on Wednesday.

“But Sua has had some good mentors the last couple of years and he’s spent a fair bit of time working alongside and underneath Paps and Billy (Slater) and Means (Nick Meaney) as well, and that was the strength of his as well.

“He’s had a fair bit of time learning his trade and putting that into his tool belt and it’s just about him doing it now and we can obviously help him too by giving him our full attention when we’re coming out of tackles and stuff like that.”

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Playing for Australia, Grant opposed Fa’alogo who was part of the Samoan side at last year’s Pacific Nations and saw what a handful he could be.

“I remember playing him up in Townsville last year in the Pacific Nations and the last thing I wanted was for him to have the ball in his hands because there was a lot of fatigue there and he was very dangerous,” the star hooker said.

Grant said while the Victorian-born and raised Fa’alogo looked a natural, he had worked hard to improve his elusiveness and speed.

“That’s his strength and a lot of people probably don’t see how much time and effort he puts into that.

“He realises that’s a really big strength of his game that he can bring to the team and he works extremely hard on it and I don’t think it comes easy for him.

“He always looks to get better in that way and also other ways of his game and he does the little things well too.”

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