A powerhouse ball runner and the leader of the Sharks pack, after his stellar 2016 season Andrew Fifita is well and truly in the conversation when the best front rowers in the world are being discussed.
He took the Sharks forward all season, giving the skill players time and space to do their thing, while providing that special piece of X-Factor, as was on display in that memorable moment and match-winning try at ANZ Stadium on Grand Final day.
Playing all three State of Origin fixtures for NSW this year and named joint Sharks Player of the Year with fellow prop Matt Prior, Fifita took his game to an even greater levels in 2016.
An incredible 70 off-loads during the year, 126 tackle breaks, 163 average run metres, all numbers which go a long way towards emphasising the qualities he brought to the Sharks each and every game.
An off-field issue attracted headlines, however it didn’t seem to adversely affect his play on the field, with Fifita seemingly un-phased by the noise going on around him once the whistle blew and the games got underway.
Whether it was coming off the back fence at Southern Cross Group Stadium and charging into the opposition defensive line, drifting cross field pushing off would-be defenders or slipping away off-loads to create second phase opportunities, it was hard not to notice Andrew Fifita.
In 2016 a positive was perhaps that Fifita gave away less penalties, made fewer errors and on the field at least wasn’t noticed for the wrong reasons.
A polarising figure in the NRL, Fifita is always watched closely, scrutinised by critics and media scribes, but his ability and physical presence went a long way towards helping the Sharks enjoy the success they achieved in 2016.
There were a few magic Fifita moments along the way, however none could surpass the Grand Final try, one which helped deliver the Sharks the 2016 NRL premiership.
Running onto a short pass from Michael Ennis, Fifita still had plenty of work to do, with a wall of Melbourne defence between him and the goal line.
Fifita crashed into three Storm players, two more joined in on the tackle but with an amazing display of strength and skill he charged, twisted, turned and managed to plant the ball down under the uprights for the try that would ultimately decide the Grand Final.
It was perhaps the crown jewel of all magic moments not just for Fifita himself, but in the 49-year history of the Sharks as they withstood a frantic final few minutes to claim their maiden NRL crown.
Fifita was still buzzing in the minutes following the Grand Final triumph, and rightly so after crossing for the try that put his team in front.
“I scored a try to win the Sharks their first premiership, there is nothing better. I am shell-shocked,” Fifita said.
As for questions about the off-field dramas which unfortunately earned him some unwanted headlines, Fifita explained that the rugby league field was his sanctuary and the Grand Final win the perfect ending to a tumultuous 2016 season.
“Eighty minutes on the field is the best place to be in the world, it’s like being at home with the family. Eighty minutes on the field gets me away from everything and lets me be me.
“I’m pretty upbeat and positive and I’m a history-maker ... that’s all that matters.”
Year in Review: Andrew Fifita*
Games played 2016 - 25
Tackle Breaks: 126
Average run metres: 163 (1st)*
* Statistics via www.foxsports.com.au/nrl and Big League Magazine