QUIET MAN: New South Wales forward Andrew Fifita ploughs through Queensland Maroons defence during Game one of the State of Origin series.
QUIET MAN: New South Wales forward Andrew Fifita ploughs through Queensland Maroons defence during Game one of the State of Origin series. DAN PELED

Quiet Andrew Fifita an unknown quantity

HE'S one of rugby league's most extroverted players, human headline, but Andrew Fifita has been quiet as a mouse in NSW camp this week - battling sickness, controversy and the unthinkable possibility of flaming out two games early after igniting this Origin series with an astonishing game one performance.

After terrorising the Maroons in game one, the big, skilful prop was compared to Immortal Arthur Beetson, and tipped to be the player to rip down the curtain on Queensland's golden generation.

Six weeks down the track and his contribution still looms as series shaping, only there's less confidence that it will be to the Blues' advantage.

It's why two games out from the decider, NSW captain Boyd Cordner found himself discussing with the media Fifita's state-of-mind, revealing he had taken on a counselling role to ensure the Blues' most potent weapon doesn't fire blanks.

Since Origin I, Queensland have put on a master class in getting inside the head of one of the game's most talented, yet most volatile, characters.

First they did it on the training track, putting a vest on a Fifita stand-in during opposed sessions and shouting 'Fifita, Fifita, Fifita' during drills to ram home the importance of targeting him when he had the ball.

They were eager to let the media know about it as well, with the big front-rower all too aware by game two that he was the man they were looking to stop.

 

New South Wales State of Origin players Josh Dugan, Jarryd Hayne and Andrew Fifita talk following the team announcement in Sydney on Monday, July 3.
New South Wales State of Origin players Josh Dugan, Jarryd Hayne and Andrew Fifita talk following the team announcement in Sydney on Monday, July 3. PAUL MILLER

They got to him and his head has been filled with so many different things in the weeks since that there's a sense he needs to be pulled out of his funk to recapture the form that made him a marked man.

It started with reports Fifita was fuming after Origin II that Queensland firebrand Josh McGuire had taken aim at him with an abusive verbal tirade as he celebrated victory.

Then there was the rage at a Brisbane pub for a Facebook post that targeted the NSW star, which he understandably viewed as racially motivated and a personal attack on his family.

Once in camp for game three, Fifita was struck down by a flu that limited his involvement in activities outside training and team meetings.

Other than one brief interview with The Daily Telegraph, Fifita has not spoken to media in weeks and it's been noticeable that one of the noisiest and most extroverted members of the squad has barely been sighted around the team hotel.

It feels like the eye of the storm, only there's no guarantees the quiet will pass quick enough for Cyclone Fifita to wreak havoc on Queensland's pack come Wednesday.

Asked if he's confident Fifita's ready to go, Cordner responds that he's making it his own personal responsibility to get the big man up for the game.

Cordner has taken his captaincy seriously and his team first attitude has given him plenty of extra-curricular activities to stay across, while also working overtime to get his injured calf ready for 80 minutes of battle.

"When I'm walking with him, I don't want to make it a big thing, but if I'm with him I'll just ask how he's going, to stay on top of things or if he wants to vent, so I'm doing my best with that at the moment," Cordner reveals.

"He's been all right, he's been pretty good. Like he said (in his interview with the Telegraph), he's dealt with that, he's gotten over it, he's moving forward, he's got bigger and better things on his mind.

"I think that comes down in my role as captain, to make sure that not only him, but if anyone else is having a bad day or something, just to go up and have a chat and see if there's anything I can do to help them out.

 

New South Wales Blues player Andrew Fifita has a laugh during a captain's run session.
New South Wales Blues player Andrew Fifita has a laugh during a captain's run session. DAVID MOIR

"I think he's had about three of them, so if anyone could deal with it, it would be Andrew.

"He's been in those sorts of situations before, and just being around him he's handled himself pretty well during the week and we know how much something like that can get to you, especially in a week when you're in the Origin period, so you've got to be careful, or not careful, but you've just got to be aware that that's going on and try to help him out if he needs it."

With club teammates Wade Graham, James Maloney and Jack Bird in camp with him, Fifita has a significant support network to draw from if he needs it.

The Cronulla posse knows what makes him tick and how to get the best out of him and Graham is convinced there's nothing to worry about.

"We're all expecting a big game (from him), the stage is set really," Graham said.

"It's a decider up at Suncorp, the games don't come any bigger than that and we need him to have a big one, he's a massive reason we had success in game one and hopefully he can replicate some of that form."

Asked if Fifita would go looking for retribution against McGuire for his game two verbal spray, Graham replied: "There's enough competition as it is, the verbal stuff doesn't come into it.

"Everyone's already putting everything they have on the line, so I don't really buy into the verbal stuff all that much. You're out there competing as hard as you can and that's the game."

News Corp Australia


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