Andrew Fifita’s broken knees, induced coma and $100,000 a game

As the Sharks’ summer signing spree pushes them to reclaim their spot in the top eight in 2022, perhaps the biggest hurdle is the huge amount of money they’re paying a player who’s generally willing to be physically eliminated.

When Andrew Fifita re-signed with Cronulla to a four-year deal in 2017, he was the best prop.

He was coming off a huge 2016 season with the Sharks, capped off with a big final victory where he was somewhat controversial for the Clive Churchill Medal as best on the ground.

Then there was his barnstorming performance in 2017’s Origin 1, one of the finest by a prop in interstate arena history, for which he would not be denied honors from the man of the match.

A few weeks later, Fifita signed on the dotted line with the reigning premiers in a deal that made him one of the game’s highest-earning strikers.

And why not? He was playing the best football of his career – indeed, in his day it was one of the best footballs in the history of average strikers – and just days away from his 28th birthday he was surely entering his prime years, ready to lead Cronulla into the post-Paul Gallen era with four years of devastating service.

That seemed to be the case for the first two years of his big contract, playing 26 games and covering a total of 3543 meters in 2018, then with 21 games and 2416 meters in 2019.

But 2020 has seen things change.

While there were only 20 games in the regular season interrupted by COVID, with the Sharks managing one more in the Finals, Fifita was only able to enter the court for 12 of them, struggling throughout of the year with a reported chronic knee injury.

During the offseason, Fifita told he had blown “heaviest I have ever been” at 137 kilograms.

“I didn’t want to jump on the scale and show the boys I was a big mess,” Fifita said.

So he hit the boxing pads, in the middle of a Riverina heatwave, carrying a trash bag under his sweater to make the 40-degree days even more unbearable, while subsisting on a juice diet.

His plan was to drop to 118 kilos, removing the weight from his frame so he could still succeed in an NRL competition which had considerably less chance for a big guy to blow out compared to when Fifita was in his 2016-17 pump. .

The final result ? John Morris sent Fifita to play the NSW Cup for Newtown.

And even after the coach got the boot after five rounds, Cronulla’s tallest and highest (paid) player continued to play park footy with the Jets.

He ended up breaking into the Sharks freshman team in Round 10 against the Bunnies, then played five more times before his season ended in terrifying fashion against Newcastle, with Fifita landing a stray shot at throat that saw him placed in an induced coma.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It was feared he would never play football again, although the Tonga international put those fears into perspective last October when he opened up about his ordeal in hospital.

“They ended up cutting my neck. He said (if they had) a minute later I would be dead,” Fifita told Nine.

“Then they realized they had cut an artery in my neck and I was bleeding in all my lungs, so I was drowning in my own blood.”

Being your most recent experience on a soccer field, no one would blame you for hanging up your cleats.

And if we’re being honest, the Shire suits probably had similar thoughts – putting the long-term health and well-being of their final big hero first, but naturally licking their lips at the prospect of getting relief. in salary for a guy who had agreed 18 times in the past two years, and therefore made just under $100,000 per game.

But according to the Sydney Morning Herald“Fifita was told he wouldn’t be eligible for a medical pension.”

So if he wants the reported $850,000 he is expected to earn from Cronulla this season, he has to work for it.

Although, as he discovered last season, he only has to work as hard as the part-timers on reserve.

That is, unless he wants to make the rounds again in 2023. But barring a move to the English Super League with his twin brother David, logic suggests this is Andrew’s swan song. Fifita.

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Best case scenario
As said above, there are plenty of decent judges out there saying the Sharks will go gangbusters this season.

But if we’re being honest, a final – rather than a big final victory – is their cap.

It’s not that they lack depth or talent, it’s that they lack combinations and continuity. A new coach, new half-time pairs, the uncertainty over who will play at 13 – it’s not that any of these issues are destroying the season, just that they’re generally not a recipe for a title.

Craig Fitzgibbon

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

But returning to finals football is no reason to scoff and wouldn’t it be appropriate for Fifita to finish in the NRL by leading his teammates to a football appearance in September after a fearless season played on the bench?

That seems to be his place now, with his knee issues robbing him of any hope of ever being a starting mainstay again. But if he can accept the role of bench striker and commit to tearing up for the limited minutes he plays each week, hopefully he can continue to make a difference.

I mean, he played about 40 minutes and ran over 100 yards in the All Stars game.

An inspirational season, even spent as a cameo player, that leads to a farewell finals appearance would be a great way for Andrew Fifita to say goodbye.

worst case scenario
After a 2021 season in which Fifita averaged just 16 minutes and hit a grand total of just 325 running yards in his six first-year games, there’s evidence that time and injury have caught up with one of best accessories of the modern era.

John Morris may have been right. Maybe Andrew Fifita is just a park foot player these days.

But while the 8972 in attendance each week at Henson Park would never say no to another season of week-to-week appearances from a bona fide rugby league star like Andrew Fifita, it would be a shame for him and the Sharks if it all ended with him playing reggies.

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