It was the indiscretion that rubbed him out for six weeks, but it took Andrew Fifita over six months to heed the lesson.
The Cronulla prop admitted he ignored the criticism he copped for abusing a referee at a junior rugby league match last July, thumbing his nose at the controversial six-game ban.
“I kind of brushed that last year when I had my opportunity to play in the semis,” he said.
“That was my time to focus on footy. I had two games to prove I was back to my best, when I wasn’t.”
But after a summer of soul-searching, the former NSW State of Origin and Australian forward is now on the cusp of a return to the representative arena following a stellar start to the new season.
In a return to his number-crunching best, Fifita is averaging a remarkable 164 metres, 32 tackles, two tackle breaks and two offloads a game over the first five rounds.
And last year’s smack in the bum is the catalyst.
An ultimatum from coach Shane Flanagan now has the former Wests Tigers prop focusing more on the amount of times he gets in trouble with the referees than he does causing trouble for the opposition.
“It could be one penalty in the game and I focus more on that even if I’m busting tackles or I get an offload away,” the 26-year-old said.
“Flanno said if I knock out that out of my game, then you’re back in those rep jerseys.
“And that’s a goal that I want to achieve. I find myself one of the leaders in the club so I want to be back where I should be. It’s just one of those things you strive for.
“I’ve been there before, had a taste of it and I want it back now.”
Stepping out as a Blue alongside retiring NSW Origin and club captain Paul Gallen is another goal.
“I’m playing club footy with him, why not be on the rep scene with him?” he said.
“It’s one of those opportunities you wouldn’t want to miss. Hopefully for myself it isn’t his last year though, I reckon he has one more year in him. Either way hopefully we let Gal go out on a good note.”