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Opinion

For Fifita’s sake he now needs to show he's the real deal to shed 'lazy Davey' mercenary tag

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3 days ago
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Perceptions can be hard for rugby league players to shake but it’s not impossible. 

David Fifita is the latest NRL star who needs an image overhaul, particularly in light of his surprising decision to turn his back on the Roosters after agreeing to a four-year deal. 

Although perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising given that he will earn receive a reported $300,000 extra by sticking with the Titans for the final two seasons of his current clause-and-effect contract. 

It’s almost nine years to the day since the Titans were left at the altar when Manly star Daly Cherry-Evans cooled off on a long-term commitment to join them. The rugby league gods can take their time but eventually they can deliver karma to those who are patient.

The perception of Fifita is that he’s a mercenary, a lazy trainer who does not put in maximum effort to maximise his enormous talent. 

He has had the NRL world at his feet since not only making his debut with the Broncos in 2018, the first NRL player to be born in the 2000s.

He was fast-tracked into the Queensland Origin team the following year while still a teenager and more than held his own in the toughest of rugby league company. 

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A couple of years later he switches to the Titans, claiming that it was the best thing for his career. 

Rugby league fans are not dunces, despite what their union counterparts claim, and it was clear Fifita was only heading down the Coast because a desperate club had paid way over the odds for his services in what was reported as a record-breaking $3.6m deal over three years.

The fact that the Roosters had offered him less than that recently over four years shows how much an overpay that was by the Titans.

After their previous experiences in overpaying for a selfish star who didn’t perform on the field in Jarryd Hayne you would have thought they had learned their lesson. 

Fifita’s first year at the Titans was a pearler as he crossed for 17 tries – a  tally for a forward that has only been surpassed by two others, Glebe Immortal Frank Burge who did it three times more than a century ago and Manly Hall of Famer Steven Menzie, twice in the 1990s.

David Fifita of the Titans offloads during the round 23 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Gold Coast Titans at WIN Stadium on August 21, 2022 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

David Fifita. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

He was a constant threat on the edge to help drag the team to a rare playoff berth. 

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The following year was a write-off with his form dipping to such an extent that new Maroons coach Billy Slater made the bold call to not consider him for selection before injuries ruled him out anyway. 

Last season was the final instalment of his mega deal to join the Titans and what do you know, being in a “contract year” coincided with a dramatic uptick in Fifita’s form in the early rounds. 

He then recommitted to the Gold Coast in August for three more years although he insisted on get-out clauses for 2025 and 2026 if he wasn’t happy with the direction of the club by Round 10. 

Fifita was unhappy because the coach who had a reputation for giving players leeway in Justin Holbrook had been replaced by one known for being a hard taskmaster at training after the Titans pulled off a clandestine coup without a whisper leaking to the media about Des Hasler’s arrival. 

Although he missed the first few rounds as he recovered from off-season pectoral surgery, Fifita’s form has been solid for the struggling Titans. 

He trails only Manly’s Haumole Olakau’atu (133) among edge forwards for running metres per game at 120, he is the pick of the bunch for tackle breaks at 5.7 and while he will never be accused of being a defensive workhorse, his average of 25 tackles from 68 minutes each outing is not bad.

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But has his output been worth seven figures? Definitely not. 

Hasler has already used the tactic of playing Fifita off the bench four times from eight matches that Holbrook would occasionally give a whirl in a bid to up his effectiveness.

You don’t see Kevin Walters doing that with Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan, ditto for the Rabbitohs and Cameron Murray or Liam Martin at Penrith. Elite forwards start and finish matches with as little time off the field as possible.

Of course it’s not his fault that the Titans are prepared to pay him more than any other club, including the Panthers and Roosters who had offered him less while trying to compensate with the lure of joining a premiership contender. 

Fifita’s announcement last week that he had decided to join the Roosters for less than he could earn at the Titans was met with skepticism. Was he really going to take a substantial pay cut to join the Roosters? 

Perhaps this meant he was willing to sacrifice to achieve his premiership dream or the cynically inclined observers thought it was a case of thinking he could get a cushier ride at the Roosters where he could blend in among their star-studded roster rather than shouldering the heavy burden at the Gold Coast of carrying their fortunes on his broad shoulders alongside Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. 

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But now he’s decided to stay put due to family reasons and his new-found belief that the Titans are headed in the right direction. 

His quotes in the official club statement don’t pass the sniff test, pub test or any other measure of standardised testing. 

Fifita is 24. He should be entering the prime of his career.  

Some Titans supporters booed him last week when he first touched the ball in the clash with North Queensland. 

After scoring a try and setting up another he soon had the fickle fans cheering him on as he was integral to the injury-addled side’s dramatic two-point triumph.

The only way for Fifita to show that he is the real deal and committed to the Coast, and not just a highly paid employee, is with performances like this on the field. 

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Not just when he’s playing for Queensland in Origin but for the Titans. 

Every week. 

Whether they’re copping a flogging or in that rare position of being a chance of winning. 

And then maybe those victories will stop becoming such a rarity.

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