Fifita Front Of Mind For New-Look Maroons
The Maroons have wasted little time in addressing one of the areas that contributed most to their defeat in Game One of the Holden State of Origin Series, employing the biggest blokes they've got to build up their resistance to Andrew Fifita.
The new-look Maroons took to the training field in formation for the first time this week with Darius Boyd running in the uncustomary position of left centre inside debutant Valentine Holmes, Billy Slater reclaiming his right to bark orders from the back and Jarrod Wallace, Tim Glasby and Coen Hess getting used to trucking the ball forward through the middle third.
Josh Papalii was given an early mark to continue treatment on a knee injury but is in no doubt for next Wednesday's clash at ANZ Stadium where the challenge for New South Wales front-rower Fifita will be to back up his heroics on home soil and secure a series win for the Blues.
Given the attention the Queenslanders gave to him on Friday morning they certainly appear to believe that the Sharks prop can continue in his vein of recent rampages, asking Hess and Dylan Napa to test the defensive line with their best Fifita impressions.
It consisted largely of taking the ball close to the ruck and then drifting wide to the left, pulling three and four players out of the line at a time who had much more success bringing the impostors to ground than they did the real thing two weeks earlier.
Both of the Blues' first-half tries came on the back of Fifita charges through the middle and utility Michael Morgan conceded the Maroons are on high alert as they desperately try to keep the series alive.
"Everyone has to be on alert. He's skilful enough that he has an offload, he's got a pass, he's obviously very good skipping across the field and creating space for either himself or players around him," said Morgan.
"When he's carrying, as a team we all have to be alert and moving together and working together because he's the kind of player at the moment that can create something out of nothing.
"It's very tough when people are doing that through the middle of the field.
"He's been in some really good form for Cronulla and obviously he had a great game in Game One so we'd be silly not to do a bit of preparation on him as an individual.
"Across the park they have good individual players but he in particular really stood out in Game One and he took that form back to the Sharks as well."
In a performance that drew comparisons with the great Arthur Beetson, Fifita busted 11 Queensland attempts at tackles, provided two offloads – one of which was a try assist for James Maloney to score – and ran for 183 metres, Morgan conceding that the 13 Queensland players on the field need to be able to respond when he takes a hit-up.
"As a team defensively he's not your typical front-rower where he will take it up and a normal three-man tackle and it's over," said Morgan, who will be playing his seventh Origin match on Wednesday night.
"He's got really good footwork, he's a different shaped body, really long legs and he is hard to handle. It's as a team that we'll have to try and control him.
"He was creating space and creating opportunities and once a quick play-the-ball happens they have the players that can play off the back of that really well.
"You saw Jimmy Maloney score a try off the back of him, [James] Tedesco through the middle. They play off the back of him so yes they do get a lift out of it.
"When he's carrying they all probably expect something to happen so everyone gets that little bit of energy and something happens."
Few players will see more of Fifita than Queensland lock Josh McGuire but the best metre-eater among the Maroons forwards in Game One says the best way to counter his involvement is to make sure they each fulfil their roles individually.
"He's a very good football player and had a fantastic game in Game One," said McGuire, who is suddenly the third-most capped forward in the Queensland squad.
"In Game Two, like a lot of their forward players, it'll be very important to make sure that we play good football.
"I think it's more about us than worrying about them and that's what we're doing.
"There's just different players that bring different things to their team and we're just going to do our job and if we can do that, hopefully it limits his impact on the game."
This article first appeared on NRL.com