Last Monday Andrew Fifita spent his afternoon with the kids at Kurnell Public School.
He was there to help launch Game On, a resource book for primary schools teaching resilience.
After Fifita’s performance on Sunday afternoon, it’s clear Cronulla chose the right man for the job.
Fifita had barely trained all week as he managed a knee injury suffered earlier in the season against St George Illawarra. The giant prop has severe bone bruising, making any sort of running extremely painful.
With Cronulla already without five back-rowers – Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Jayson Bukuya and Scott Sorensen – through injury, it was Fifita who reluctantly had the captaincy thrust upon him by Sharks coach Shane Flanagan.
What a decision that proved to be.
Fifita led from the front against the Raiders, playing all 80 minutes as Cronulla stormed home to down Canberra 24-16 on Sunday. He made almost 180 metres from 19 carries of the ball and an incredible 51 tackles as the Sharks won their sixth match in a row at GIO Stadium.
“We were struggling during the week. Andrew hasn’t been able to train. I’ve got five back-rowers out at the moment. We’re struggling just to get a team to come down, to tell you the truth,” Flanagan said.
“And playing blokes out of position. It was really brave. It’s definitely the bravest win this year, for sure.
“I was sending some messages down in the last five or 10 minutes telling [Fifita] don’t carry the ball, just tackle. He didn’t seem to get it.
“It was a huge effort. I don’t want him to play 80 minutes. That’s not part of our plan but it’s just we’re a bit low on troops at the moment and I need one of those front-rowers to play big minutes. He’s done a great job for the team, for a front-rower to play 80 in the modern game is a fantastic effort.”
Fifita has already declared himself unavailable for State of Origin this season to represent Tonga but you wouldn’t blame NSW coach Brad Fittler from taking Fifita up on his offer after he joked he would play games one and three of the series.
“To be honest I wasn’t really into [being captain] during the week when Flano messaged me and said officially ‘you’re captain’,” Fifita said.
“Against the Titans I was co-captain and this week I really had the opportunity to take it with both hands. Flano during the week told me ‘I need tough men and I can’t find anyone tougher than yourself’. We had a meeting last night and I took the opportunity with both hands.
“I’ve been struggling all week but it’s about 80 minutes of football. For me to go to work I just get through my job. That’s the main thing. I’m not the biggest talker to the boys, I just try to lead by example.”