Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita insisted his emotional reaction after scoring a 69th minute try was directed at assistant coach Jim Dymock for criticising his first-half performance in the Sharks 28-16 defeat of North Queensland on Saturday night.
After charging his way over the tryline, an animated Fifita turned towards the Cronulla coaching box in the grandstand at Southern Cross Group Stadium and pointed his finger while yelling aggressively.
It was one of the more unusual try celebrations and most assumed his actions were directed at coach Shane Flanagan, who admitted he had replaced Fifita earlier than usual in the 18th minute and was pleased with the way he responded after sitting on the bench until the 60th minute.
Fifita was seen several times to indicate that he wanted to return to the field but Flanagan said: “Good on him. It’s not his team”.
Flanagan was not satisfied with Fifita’s performance in the opening exchanges and replaced him with Test prop Aaron Woods but the length of time he spent on the sideline surprised many.
“We need Andrew Fifita going at his best to win big games at the end of the year and I was pretty happy with how he played in the end,” Flanagan said. “When he came on he made a big difference, he scored the try and ran with some real purpose.
“I love that passion in him. He wanted to get back out there quickly and he wanted to do a job for us and wanted to prove a point.
“I’m not worried about it at all, or who it was directed at, if he goes out there and runs hard and scores a try I couldn’t care who he pointed at.”
Fifita declined to discuss the incident with reporters after the match but he said on the field at fulltime that his antics were aimed at Dymock – not Flanagan.
“I know Jimmy was up there. At half-time he said I wasn’t running hard enough and I had a point to prove,” Fifita told Fox League. “It wasn’t really directed at Shane Flanagan, it was at Jimmy. He told me I wasn’t running hard enough."
However, he admitted he had not been happy to be replaced so early in the match.
“I just wasn’t fully out of breath and I thought I could’ve kept going,” he said.
Dymock has been a member of the Tonga coaching staff and has a long association with Fifita, who was one of the big-name stars to defect to the Mate Ma'a at last year's World Cup, along with suspended North Queensland forward Jason Taumalolo.
"Jimmy is one of those blokes - they're both Tongan and have got bad tempers," Flanagan said. "Jimmy told him he wasn't running hard enough and he ran hard enough and got a try in the second half. I love the passion from both of them. I'll be getting Jimmy to tell him that again next week."
The Sharks suffered a heavy injury toll in the match, with centres Jesse Ramien (ankle) and Ricky Luetele (knee) failing to finish the match.
Flanagan said neither injury was serious and he expects to have hooker Jayden Brailey (ear) and backrower Wade Graham (groin) available for next Sunday’s clash with Newcastle at Southern Cross Group Stadium.