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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

State of Origin : NSW should ignore the temptation to pick Andrew Fifita

New South Wales coach Brad Fittler insists he will not choose his State of Origin team until May 28, the day the squad is to be announced at a televised function.
Fittler is a refreshingly unconventional character whose left-field thinking will either help lift the Blues' Origin curse or leave a litany of amusing stories about his attempts to do so.
However, anyone who has been involved in Origin logistics knows the idea of Fittler sitting in an ante room a few minutes before the team is announced agonising about his selections is far-fetched.
Flights must be booked, uniforms ordered, training schedules organised and media obligations met.
The NSWRL might not have re-branded a petrol station as the Socceroos did even before Tim Cahill was included in the Socceroos' World Cup squad. But you can safely assume Fittler will be forced to settle on his squad even as the final pre-Origin period games are played next weekend.
There is, however, one notable exception. And if you Google "notable exception", Andrew Fifita's image might well pop up on the screen.
Once this was because too many exceptions had been made for Fifita, whose conduct did not deserve the privileges his outsized talent afforded him.
Back a one-punch killer, abuse the refs at a junior game, throw your considerable weight around too much and abandon your (previous) country on the eve of a World Cup and you might just get a reputation.
Yet, for all that, the way is being cleared for Fifita's return to disreputable society — the pending State of Origin series.
Fifita is in rare form. He carried the Sharks to victory in Canberra last weekend with an exceptional 80-minute performance and was almost as influential during a 22-16 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
So you could hardly blame NSW, sniffing blood in the post-Thurston/Smith era, for being tempted to choose a human wrecking ball whose presence beside powerhouse forwards Aaron Wood and David Klemmer could finally tip the balance of power in their favour.
But good form alone is not enough to justify Fifita's immediate return to the game's most prestigious stage after his World Cup betrayal.
So we have Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan marvelling at the post-World Cup transformation of the Prodigal Shark: "Andrew Fifita now understands who Andrew Fifita is," Flanagan told Fairfax Media.
Who Fifita thought he was before this moment of enlightenment remains a matter of conjecture. Two-Pack Shaker? Matt Preston? Prince Harry?
But it is Fifita's fascinating unpredictability that provides the greatest justification for his Origin selection. The elaborate and occasionally terrifying pantomime that is State of Origin needs a villain; someone to stimulate the cartoon book propaganda of the tabloids.
Cameron Smith's retirement has robbed the Sydney media of its designated target. Gone with the great Number 9 are all the old jibes about his unfair influence on referees as well as the darker and far less justifiable taunts about his "grubby" conduct in the ruck.
Given his still disputed residential status, Greg Inglis will no doubt be derided in Sydney as "the first New South Welshman to captain Queensland". But in the sublime way Inglis plays he seems somehow beyond a Smith-style character assassination.
Fifita on the other hand is, like his Cronulla teammate Paul Gallen, the State of Origin villain from central casting.
Fittler said recently he still feels strongly about Fifita's decision to defect to Tonga, but also left the door ajar. So the image of the coach in that ante room with 16 names written on the team sheet and his pen poised remains irresistible.
The NSW coach knows that should he ink Fifita's name in the squad he would be a villain. But when the dust settled, would that be in Brisbane or Sydney?