Andrew Fifita is playing himself into a NSW jumper and he’s dragging Cronulla into NRL title contention along the way.
While Laurie Daley is sweating on the health of first-choice prop Aaron Woods, who is touch and go for Game I, his mind will be put at ease by the fact Fifita has managed to rediscover his barnstorming best.
While Fifita has been guilty of being one the competition’s most fickle performers over his career, after six rounds he’s been proven himself one of the most in-form big men going around.
He is ranked third for metres made by forwards this year, only behind North Queensland’s Jason Taumalolo (176m) and Woods (173m), according to Fox Sports Stats.
Last week, he put in a match-winning effort in their 25-20 victory over the Gold Coast including a bruising second half display in which he ran for 140 metres in 40 minutes and scored a crucial four-pointer.
And it is that platform upon which the Sharks have come out of the blocks to be fourth at 4-2 and aiming for their fourth straight win against Canberra on Sunday.
The Sharks are fifth in the league for metres made but more importantly, top ranked for metres conceded with just 1286m per game.
Coach Shane Flanagan says Fifita is getting things right off the field after being plagued by personal problems and distractions throughout his career and tips him to return to the NSW fold after being dropped by Daley last year.
“He’s getting better and working hard off the field on all the things he needs to do, the little things in his game that will bring him some publicity,” Flanagan said.
“He’s running really straight, he’s making some big metres and playing some big minutes for us. Defensively he’s been sound and we’ll just keep working away.”
While the Sharks will go in against Canberra without suspended veteran Luke Lewis, they would be smelling the Raiders’ blood in the water.
Already missing Sia Soliola (arm) and Jeff Lima (hand), Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was handed fresh injury concerns late in the week when five-eighth Blake Austin went down with a hamstring strain which is expected to keep him out for a fortnight.
Paul Vaughan (ankle) and Josh Hodgson (thumb) are also struggling to take the field.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Cronulla have won eight of their past 11 matches at Canberra Stadium
* These two teams are being awarded the most penalties with the Raiders receiving 10.2 per game and the Sharks nine
* The Raiders will be aiming to win their 200th match at Canberra Stadium in what will be their 310th match there.
Source: Fox Sports Stats.