Fifita Honoured To Play In Beetson's Mould
Having cast him aside from Australia's Four Nations campaign for off-field indiscretions, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga invited Andrew Fifita back into the fold last month and immediately put his name alongside the great Arthur Beetson.
As part of his reconnecting with the history of the Kangaroos, Meninga paired his modern day players with those who were selected in the team of the century.
In the team room in Canberra, Darius Boyd's name was placed alongside Clive Churchill's, Cooper Cronk shared space with Andrew Johns and Fifita – a four-time Indigenous All Stars representative – was for the first time associated with an Immortal of the game.
Fifita never saw Beetson play but as he embarked on a one-man seek and destroy mission against Queensland on Wednesday night the parallels were impossible to ignore.
A body blessed with equal amounts of bulk and ability, Fifita brushed defenders aside and when they finally did get their hands on him managed to free his arms enough to keep the ball alive for his teammates.
His one-handed offload whilst being tackled by noted defenders Dylan Napa and Matt Gillett for James Maloney's try in the sixth minute was a carbon copy of Beetson at his best, soft hands belying the brute force behind them.
Not since Beetson has a prop forward dominated the game in the manner in which Fifita is currently doing, Origin I's man of the match considered unlucky not to have won the Clive Churchill Medal in last year's grand final.
The 27-year-old doesn't have a way of comparing his style to Beetson but he cheekily hinted at how Australia's first Indigenous captain must have attacked the game for him to now draw such comparisons.
"I never got to see Artie play but if he plays like me he's a legend!" Fifita laughed post-game.
"I remember walking into Aussies and you've got Team of the Century underneath and I looked at the board and it had Andrew Fifita and on top of me it had Artie Beetson.
"It was an honour to be part of the Aussie team but to see that, I was just stoked.
"I hope he had the same motto as me. I risk things; you've got to risk it for the biscuit.
"I just play what's in front of me. I think that's just me as a player. I'm a bit versatile for a front-rower, I'm a bit different.
"I feel like a half but at the end of the day I'm a front-rower. I just look up and see what's in front of me and go for glory.
"That's my mentality now and to be positive."
Former front row partners coming through the under-20s at Wests Tigers, Fifita and Aaron Woods set the tone for how New South Wales would attack the Maroons with a 20-minute opening salvo that had seasoned Origin players gasping for air.
Given he was ostracised from the representative scene at the end of last year despite being arguably the best front-rower in the game, Woods knows what it meant for Fifita to earn his Kangaroos recall against the Kiwis.
"That's the big thing about Mal. I didn't know Mal from a bar of soap but he's a man's man and if you do the crime you do the time," Woods told NRL.com.
"That's what he said, Fifita did the time so he's learnt his spot back. I'm just so happy for him.
"He had a tough time, he probably did a few things he'd probably change if he had his time back again but he's working hard to get himself right.
"He's in a really good spot, he played for Australia a few weeks back and he's been one of the dominant front-rowers in the comp.
"I love it mate because I grew up with him and I'm just so happy for him at the moment."
Fifita was only called in to the Australian team following the withdrawal of Woods with a hamstring injury and he immediately set about proving to Meninga that he was worthy of wearing the green and gold jersey.
"To be honest I think it was a bit of a relief," Fifita said of being called into the squad.
"I just wanted to show him who I was a person. I'd never met the bloke – I'd met him through All Stars just to say a quick hello – but he never got to meet the real me.
"He was happy with me after the game and said to keep my form and keep going and I should be there at the end of the year.
"It was a privilege to come out and represent New South Wales in this jersey up here and get the win."
This article first appeared on NRL.com