Fifita trying to right his wrongs with refs
In his ninth season in the Telstra Premiership, prop Andrew Fifita is finally learning to play the ball correctly.
The referees made it plain before the pre-season trials they would be cleaning up the play-the-ball area as too many players were treating it like tunnelball.
One of those was Fifita. He was renowned for being hit-and-miss with his foot on the ball. From the 17 penalties he conceded last year, more than half were to do with his method of playing the ball, or holding down attacking players.
Old habits are hard to break.
During an opposed session between the Cronulla Sharks and Super League team Wigan in February, he was again in trouble.
"I got pinged here (Southern Cross Group Stadium) one scrimmage match four times and that was because I had purely forgotten about the foot on the ball," Fifita said on Tuesday.
"I worked on it during the trials and now I've just changed my ways. When I play the ball I just make sure I put a foot on it.
"It is what it is but I feel like there's plenty of players out there that do it.
"I still feel like if I do it, there's a penalty straight away. It's kind of harsh for myself because I'm known as a person who always did it."
Fifita is by no means Robinson Crusoe at the Sharks when it comes to penalties.
In round one against the North Queensland Cowboys, the Sharks conceded 10 penalties. Against the St George Illawarra Dragons in round two it crept up to 12. Round three's win over Parramatta last weekend was a more acceptable six.
Fifita was still among them – for holding an Eels player down too long in the tackle.
"I got a harsh one on the weekend and that's just my thoughts, because we were winning the penalty count 6-0 and I was trying to steal a bit more time," he said.
"After a dominant tackle I felt like it was a bit harsh."
Fifita was warned several times by referee Ben Cummins not to work over opponents.
Although he's making a concerted effort not to draw attention to himself, Fifita feels the inevitable is just around the corner.
"I had a reputation and I know I was targeted. My thinking is a bit different to their (referees) thinking," he said, before trying to see the lighter side of things.
"My thinking is that if they are tired they're looking at me for a penalty so they get a break… because I know what it's like under fatigue."
He and the rest of the Sharks forwards will have some extra help on Friday night against the Melbourne Storm – Luke Lewis (foot) is back after missing the opening three rounds.
As for facing a Storm, slightly weakened with no Cooper Cronk (Sydney Roosters), Jordan McLean (Cowboys), Tohu Harris (Warriors), or Slade Griffin (Newcastle Knights), Fifita isn't all that fussed.
"Good quality team still. I'm not really a big fan of player movements," he said.
"I just go out and do my job. I'm in the middle and will just deal with whatever comes no matter what jersey is in front of me."
As for his decision to remain with Tonga or put his hand up for the NSW Blues again, Fifita says he will let everyone know later this week via a podcast he has created with two UFC mates, Tyson Pedro and Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa, called the Halfcast Podcast.
The Pacific Test weekend, when Tonga takes on Samoa, is set for June 23 with the stand-alone Origin II between NSW and Queensland on June 24.
Fifita has spoken fondly of his time playing in two World Cups: "Winning one (2013 with Australia) and making history in the other (2017 Tonga)."
"I’ll just sit back and wait for everybody to tune into our podcast."