Stat Attack: Andrew Fifita and the Gallen effect
Andrew Fifita's stunning 80-minute performance against the Canberra Raiders on Sunday ranked one of the best from a forward since Tongan teammate Jason Taumalolo's record-breaking year in the Telstra Premiership last season.
He produced a superb 51 tackles, 175 metres and four offloads – incredible numbers for a player who feared his season was over against the Dragons with an ACL scare in April. It was also his best set of numbers for the Sharks when playing without key trio Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham.
It is no secret Fifita needed to transform his game over the past month of the competition to help combat Cronulla's recent injury woes, including spending more time on the paddock.
But it is the quality of his football that has helped the Sharks during a tough period on the injury front, in similar vein to James Maloney's impact at the Penrith Panthers in 2018.
In the past month Fifita's minutes per game have increased from 56 to 73 with Gallen sidelined since round 6, and there has been talk for some time about Fifita's increased impact whenever Gallen is sidelined – especially from those into NRL Fantasy.
According to NRL.com Stats, Fifita has played without Gallen on 32 occasions throughout their career since 2013 – more than an entire season in total – but Fifita relishes the challenge without the Cronulla skipper to record a game average of 162 metres per game.
Things only get better for Fifita without both Gallen and Luke Lewis together with another increase in run metres, tackle breaks and tackles.
With Gallen and Lewis towards the end of their careers, this trend is only set to continue with Fifita the man to take the Sharks' forward pack into a new era.