Just play the man 80 minutes…
David Fifita is comfortably one of the most damaging and physically gifted players in the NRL. In a “down year” last year he averaged 52.4, but is there room for a bounce back?
Unlike all the other players in the NRL that fit into the “elite athlete with supreme talent” categories, David Fifita somehow seems unable to reach his potential, with a laundry list of excuses and positions consistently stifling what should be a record breaking NRL career.
In 2022, Fifita played 17 NRL games in 4 different positions – both sides on the edge, off the bench and one game at right centre. He played 80 mins in 10 of his 16 edge matches, and between 41 and 64 minutes in the other 6 matches, averaging out at 52.2 minutes. Most concerning is that two of the matches were in the last two games of the year, where he played 47 and 58 minutes respectively. This represents probably the gravest concern for his 2023 season, as we have zero assurance he will resume 80 minute duties – particularly given the fact that the Titans actually won BOTH of these matchups, which may delude coach Justin Holbrook into believing benching Fifita for 25% of the game helped.
Excluding the 2021 season where Fifita averaged 63.3, his best career average is only 52.4, which is the second thing in the “con” basket, given he is already priced slightly above that. Theoretically, Fifita is a great value if he plays 80 minutes, but can we trust it?
In 59 career back row starts, Fifita has not played the full 80 in 23 of those matches, which is a 39% clip of incomplete matches. For context, Angus Crichton has played 103 NRL matches in the back row, and only not completed the match on 17 occasions (16.5% rate). This isn’t always a marker for fantasy disaster, with Isaiah Papali’i only completing 80 minutes in 50% of his edge back row starts across the last two years and actually only averaging 1 point less in his sub 80 minute games than he does in the full 80.
So what then is the difference between David Fifita and Isaiah Papali’i? In a word, attitude.
Papali’i came from the Warriors to the Eels on a minimum deal, and had to beg, borrow and steal working his ass off for every minute until he earned a full time big minute role and the contract he deserves. Fifita has been a bloke who has ALWAYS been bigger, faster and stronger than his competitors, and likely has never had to work for anything in his NRL career thanks to his god given talent, size and speed. He now finds himself in the professional leagues playing against men, and has to learn work ethic at 22 years old.
Can he do it? Absolutely. In his 80 minute starts in 2020 and 2022 (excl. PVLBALL) he averages 57.3 points, roughly 3.5 points value on his starting price. Will I be taking a risk on him for that much value, knowing that he doesn’t play the 80 in 2/5 games? No way. I would need to see something change in his eyes and his attitude to even consider selecting him at all this year, let alone prior to round 1.