Queensland rugby league greats Darren Lockyer and Wally Lewis agree the Titans need to stick with David Fifita playing as a forward.
Fifita, who has been ruled out for up to four weeks with an MCL injury, has become a lightning rod for criticism, with Gold Coast mired in a slump following four-straight defeats.
Having made a name for himself in the back-row as a damaging edge runner, Fifita has had his role toyed with by Titans coach Justin Holbrook, who has since tried the 22-year-old as a center and an impact player off the bench in recent weeks.
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After testing Fifita in the centers during round seven in a move that failed to click, Holbrook again raised eyebrows during his side’s 18-4 loss to Panthers last week. The Titans coach placed the superstar forward on the interchange to start the match, with Kevin Proctor coming in as the starter.
Holbrook defended the move in the post-game, saying he made the decision in a bid to find a way to maximize every minute of Fifita’s time on the field as an impact player, Lockyer said the previous call to put the $1.2 million-a- season star in the centers was “unfair”.
“Maybe has [injury] break will be good for him,” Lockyer told Wide World of Sports’ QLDER.
“He’s an impact player, I think putting him in the centers was not good for his confidence… I don’t think you go back down that path again.
“I think it was a bit unfair on David a little bit.
“Regardless of what he’s being paid, If you think that’s going to be the best for the team, putting him on the bench and bringing him on against some tired defence, you do what’s in the best interest of the team.
“For the individual himself, as long as you’ve had that discussion pre-game and he’s buying into it, I don’t see any issue with it.”
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When Fifita was trialled in the centres, he produced only 97 run meters from 11 carries, which was below his average of 126.5 meters over the past two seasons, per NRL.com stats.
While off the interchange last weekend and in limited minutes due to injury, Fifita saw 45 minutes and made just 64 run meters from eight carries.
“I was a little bit confused when he was put out in the centers,” Lewis said.
“I got to watch that game live and it was an in and away that beat him a couple of times throughout the course of the match.
“You could see that he knew he was about to be attacked again by the ball carrier and just wasn’t able to match them for speed…he’s a player who is expected to perform.
“He’s a big bucks boy, he needs to perform at his highest level.
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“I’m not shooting my mouth off here too much by saying that I think he should be playing in the forwards, that’s where he’s performed his best and has always taken on the smaller guys on the edge of the ruck.”
In the aftermath of the Titans’ loss to the Panthers, NSW coach Brad Fittler suggested Fifita could be better placed playing as a middle forward, rather than on the edges.
Lockyer didn’t agree with that proposal.
“I haven’t really thought a lot about it,” Lockyer responded.
“You would like it to a Jason Taumalolo approach.
“It would take him time to adjust to the defensive workload, so his minutes might be 50 if you try that.
“It might be 50 max because he’s not used to the up, back, up and back in the middle of the field. It takes a bit of time to get used to that fitness.
“I’m not deadset against it, I just think there are other ways to get him in the game.
“The famous try he scored up in Townsville against the Cowboys, it came from where he got dropped under and then he goes across the field and finds a space – that’s another way to get him into the game. Turn him under, let him come across the field and just try and find a gap.
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“There are other ways to get him into the game, but I don’t know if Dave is ready to be put into a front-row.”
Lewis added: “I don’t think he would like to play in the front row at all, he’s quite comfortable.
“I see him as an excellent running forward, just to attack the smaller men on the edge of the ruck…he loves to charge and work off the halfback or the five-eighth if they turn him and drop him off into positions. “
Whatever happens next with Fifita’s role on the field when he returns from injury, Lockyer said the most important thing is that he and the coach are in dialogue about any changes.
“There just needs to be a relationship between the coach and Dave,” Lockyer said.
“They’re discussing it and working on what they think is best for the individual and team, and then both are buying into it.
“You just don’t want to get to a point where the coach is saying ‘do this and do that’, and Dave hasn’t had any consultation about it.”
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