Peering into Andrew Fifita’s crystal ball
The career of a talented NRL star is derailed as a result of his questionable off-field choices. Like chatting with Nanna at Christmas lunch about her lawn bowls technique, we’ve heard this story too many times before. The NRL’s most recent product off the bad behaviour assembly line is Andrew Fifita, a barnstorming prop forward from The Cronulla Sharks. As a footballer, Fifita’s talent is undisputed. But just as Macbeth had ambition, Hamlet had indecision and Othello had jealousy, so too has Fifita been the hero of his very own Shakespearean tragedy. His tragic flaw? His poor off-field judgement. In recent times, he’s been the centre of a violent road rage incident and has been fined several thousands of dollars for verbally abusing a referee at a junior rugby league match. Most recently, Fifita has been alleged to have shown support for convicted criminal Kieran Loveridge, the man who one-punch killed Thomas Kelly, by sporting the initials “f.k.l”, or “free Kieran Loveridge” on his arm during games.
Fifita sporting the controversial “F.K.L” acronym
When the NRL deemed Fifita unfit to represent Australia in last Saturday’s test match against New Zealand as a result of his controversial antics, Fifita promptly threatened to quit the NRL. So where to now for the controversial hitman? Let’s examine the possibilities.
1. Quits the NRL and changes to another sporting code
There’s a common theme in recent successful switches from rugby league to rugby union; those involved usually play in the backs, rather than the forwards. While the backs have a very similar role in both codes, the role of the forward is much more demanding in rugby union. Not only must they be able to participate heavily in rucks and mauls, but the game hinges on their ability to work cohesively with one another in the scrum. Seeing as Fifita has no professional experience doing any of these things, and that he probably only has about six years of football left in him, a switch to rugby union seems unrealistic. Punters are predicting that he would only succeed as a number 8, but even then, he would still have a lot to learn. As one of the premiere big units of the NRL, a switch to AFL is near impossible unless Fifita slims down at an unhealthy rate, so suffice to say that that option is also off the table.
Likelihood of this option: Unlikely
2. Gets kicked out of NRL
If there’s anything that the NRL has proven to its loyal fans over the past decade, it’s that it is really bad at disciplining off-field indiscretions. It took Todd Carney 4 separate drunken incidents and a bout of drinking his own urine on camera for him to be shown the door, and for all his divisive adventures thus far, Fifita is yet to do anything of this magnitude. While new NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has already taken a firmer stance on off-field conduct, it will take more consistent instances of bad behaviour for Fifita to be booted from the game altogether. I’m not saying that it won’t happen, just probably not for a while if it does.
Likelihood of this option: Unlikely
3. Switches to English rugby league
English rugby league. Where careers go to die. Or, if you’re a troubled star like Fifita, where redemption may be found. Todd Carney, Joel Monaghan and Tim Smith are just some of the NRL badboys to have found success at a European rugby league club, so perhaps Fifita will do the same. On top of this, the English breed of rugby league is known for being considerably slower than the Australian version and with his good fitness and strong running game, Fifita could certainly shine at an English club. However, the trip across the seas has proven mentally difficult for some, so Fifita may have to think twice when considering this option. Moreover, uprooting to England seems a big call for Fifita if he can attract the interest of rival NRL clubs, which he should be able to.
Likelihood of this option: Mildly likely
4. Moves to another NRL club
Cronulla fans will be cringing at this option, but with the off-season in full swing, a number of cashed-up clubs are looking out for a marquee player to add to their 2017 roster. Fifita certainly fits the bill here, and after narrowly missing out on signing Titans star Greg Bird, The Newcastle Knights have emerged as the frontrunners among rival clubs looking to sign the big man for next season. It is believed that Newcastle have enough cash to secure both Fifita and his slightly less controversial brother, David, on lengthy deals. In fact, the The Knights have reportedly held secret meetings with the brothers as recently as this week.
Likelihood of this option: Moderately likely
Fifita was spotted having dinner with Knights coach, Nathan Brown, and other management staff earlier this week
5. Stays with Cronulla
As much as it is an anti-climax, it seems likely that Cronulla will retain Fifita beyond 2016. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Cronulla have taken a lenient stance on punishing Fifita’s off-field behaviour thus far in his career. When allegations emerged about his showing support for Kieran Loveridge, the club deemed the situation “hard to monitor”, indicating their reluctance to punish the star player. Secondly, with over 100 games for the club, Fifita has become a fan favourite and one of the team’s most consistent performers, so it seems unlikely that Cronulla would axe him unless they are very heavily pressured to do so. Thirdly, Fifita himself has 2 years to run on his contract. While NRL contracts are less binding than ever these days, it seems unlikely that he would leave the 2016 premiers early unless he was offered a considerably larger salary (Fifita currently earns a very respectable $650k per season) at a club with a similar track record. That probably won’t happen.
Likelihood of this option: Most likely