You’re out’: Fifita recounts bizarre Tigers exit
Sat 7 Sep 2019, 03:49 PM
Andrew Fifita laughs as he recounts the bizarre yet serendipitous circumstances that delivered him from the Wests Tigers to Cronulla.
It’s been eight years since Fifita was unexpectedly moved on by the Tigers but the destructive prop is still a little bemused about his departure.
“We go back into time, I signed for an extra three years [at the Tigers] with my mate Woodsy [Aaron Woods] and a week later I’m getting told, ‘Nah, you’re out’,” Fifita says in the lead-up to Sunday’s must-win clash with his former team.
"I always thank God, everything happens for a reason, and I was blessed with this place I call home down at the Sharks here.
"I remember talking to my [former] manager [Daryl Mather] and my manager said there’s no one else [to go to] except for the Sharks. I thought, ‘OK, that’s a bit weird’. I’d thought I’d been playing really well.
“I think that’s the way the manager went behind my back and that’s why I’m not with him anymore, because he only gave me one place. But all-in-all, it kind of worked out the best for me.”
Wests Tigers v Sharks - Round 25
Back in 2011, the Tigers were about to land then-Melbourne forward Adam Blair for the following season and Fifita was deemed surplus to requirements midway through the year.
Coach Tim Sheens chose to retain fellow prop Matt Groat over Fifita. Groat would manage only one more partial NRL season until injuries and form curtailed his career after 17 games.
And so Fifita signed with the Sharks as a package deal with Tigers teammate Bryce Gibbs, forced to languish in reserve grade until he left the club.
The 29-year-old eventually reunited with Sheens at representative level in a sweet moment for the prop that vindicated his talent.
“The best thing was when I made my debut for Australia [in 2013, Sheens’s] speech was, ‘Look, I chose another front-rower over him, I thought the other front-rower [had] a lot more potential’,” Fifita smiles.
“And the following year he’s picked me to play for Australia. So it was a good little sly uppercut to him but all-in-all I was quite happy.”
Fifita was one of many who left Concord for Cronulla within a few years – Gibbs, John Morris, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan, Dean Collis and Blake Ayshford also switched – leading to the Shire club being dubbed the “Tiger Sharks”.
Coincidentally, Fifita’s first NRL match in the black, white and blue in round one of the 2012 season came against the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval.
“I remember running out that first game and I got booed. But out of respect I re-signed for three years and I just feel like I didn’t do anything wrong,” the 2016 premiership hero says.
The scores were locked at 16-all to start extra-time when a Todd Carney kick-off incredibly hit the crossbar and landed in the chasing Fifita’s arms close to the line.
He envisioned scoring the winning try and running across the ground returning serve to the antagonising Tigers fans, only to be brought down short.
Sharks prop Andrew Fififta.
Sharks prop Andrew Fififta.
Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos
A Benji Marshall field goal sunk Cronulla that afternoon while Fifita tore his PCL. The Sharks will be praying the result doesn’t repeat this weekend in the shootout for a finals place.
“It always hits home, this game. Everyone wants to ‘verse’ the old team and for myself what better place than at one of the best home grounds in the world down at Leichhardt,” Fifita says.
"It will help them with the home ground advantage and the crowd all being onside, but I’ve had the adversity before … I know crowds and for myself I just love banter.
“And there’s nothing better in the world than copping it and doing something good.”
Having provided impact from the bench in recent rounds, Fifita says his body is better than it’s been all season with a troublesome knee injury improving.
“I’m actually really good – tape-less, ready to roll. I’ve been trying to play without the tape all year,” he says.
“This is why we play footy and it’s this moment right here.”