Fusitu'a can be one of the greats
Stephen Kearney has challenged David Fusitu'a to transform himself from a good winger to a Warriors great and hinted he'll be on hand to guide the Tongan flyer through that "journey".
Just before Fusitu'a scored a try in the Warriors 20-4 win over Newcastle last Friday to start repaying the lucrative five-year contract extension he’d just penned, Brian Smith went on radio to describe the winger’s signature as a "great get".
"It's a beauty" and "an absolute statement of intent" about winning a Telstra premiership, the Warriors general manager of football said on Radio Sport.
Cue Kearney who has made it his mission to dampen expectations by narrowing focus on the next game and nothing beyond that, ironically as his club bids to reach September football for the first time in seven seasons.
"Yeah, he's made some OK progress," said Kearney leading into Sunday's showdown against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, before warming up slightly.
"I think the thing with David is he doesn't understand how good he can really be. That's going to be a continuous journey and challenge for him and that's why it's my job to make sure I keep him honest with that."
Which begged the next question, especially with all the coaching moves swirling around the game. Are you poised to join new assistant coach Todd Payten in signing a new deal to keep you at the club long-term?
"We’ll see," Kearney said after a notable pause.
"I'm very committed to the footy club. I didn't come back to New Zealand [on a three-year deal in late 2016] to be not committed. I'm very committed to what we're trying to do here and what we're trying to build so we'll see how things pan out."
The try against the Knights was the 16th for Fusitu'a this season, ending a five-game drought following his hat-trick in the 34-14 trouncing of Manly in round 14.
It also kept him in the NRL's leading try-scorer race, competing with the likes of Bunnies finisher Robert Jennings, Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes and Storm speedster Josh Addo-Carr.
Kearney said the 23-year-old's finishing ability is unquestioned and his aerial impact has been eye-catching in recent rounds, especially regaining possession from short line drop-outs. But his hands at the end of the chain have let Fusitu’a down a couple of times in the past month with some scoring opportunities gone begging.
"It's about consistently performing at the top level every week and that's what makes the great players different from the good players. He's made some wonderful progress over the course of the last couple of years but he's got plenty more in him," the coach said.
Kearney was asked if a consistent run on the wing - all 19 of his appearances this season have been on the right flank - had cemented Fusitu’a future in the No.2 jersey?
"For us at the minute, that's his best spot. I think potentially he'll be able to play centre but for me at the moment, that's the best spot in the team."
So how good could he be?
"Really good. You're measured over consistently performing in this competition at a very, very high level. I have got no doubt he has the capabilities but it's going to be a process and a journey for him and that's what we [the coaches] are here to do."
The other thing Kearney wants the Warriors to do is generate consistent performances across the park, week after week. It's not exactly a trademark of the seventh-placed team who are looking for their third win on the bounce against the 14th-placed Bulldogs.