It’s an old favourite in a sport of many cliches, how a week is a long time in football.
How Andrew Fifita must be feeling that.
Last Thursday, Fifita was poised to become the highest-paid prop in NRL history and jumping out of his skin to get back on the paddock for Cronulla after serving a two-week suspension for a shoulder charge.
The timing of his ban was hard to handle, coming the day after he’d tearfully told teammates he’d be leaving the Sharks for Belmore on a multi-million-dollar, four-year deal with Canterbury at the end of the season.
“It’s killing me. It’s been two long weeks, really long weeks,” Fifita said.
“I thought I’d be back the next week after telling the boys and announcing where I’m going to be in 2015.
“All the boys have put it behind us, but I’ve been copping it left, right and centre (from Sharks fans).
“I’m just going to go out there on Sunday and do my job on the field.
“I’ve got a point to prove and I’m going to try to use that as motivation to get that go-forward for my players and earn the respect from the fans and the players around me.”
Sadly for Fifita, a week on and the Test front-rower has actually lost respect of thousands of fans – mostly Bulldogs supporters – and been smashed from pillar to post.
He’s also had a “contract” with the Bulldogs, reportedly worth $3.5 million, torn up – four days after saying: “If I could go back now, I wish I chose rugby and then I wouldn’t be getting all the s*** I’ve been catching now.”
A provocative comment, it’s hardly surprising many wouldn’t have read – or heard on talkback radio – the full story.
In fairness to Fifita, maybe his critics should.
I say this because I conducted the interview and I strongly suspect Fifita has been a little misunderstood.
A former NSW Country rugby union representative, Fifita had the chance to play for Super Rugby’s Brumbies before opting for Wests Tigers in the NRL instead.
History shows the 24-year-old made a meteoric rise last season to NSW State of Origin and Australian Test player.
Off contract in 2014, Fifita was a player in command, even holding talks last December with Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.
After agreeing to join the Bulldogs, he was clearly still a young man in a hurry last Thursday afternoon.
In the space of 10 minutes, he said:-
– he wanted to make history with the Sharks in 2014 and help the club to its first premiership despite a none-from-three start to the season.
“Our goal is still going to be top four no matter what. We’re not striving just to get into the top eight. You always dream bigger and you get bigger.”
– he wanted to win an Origin series with the Blues.
– he wanted to win a premiership with the Bulldogs, if not the Sharks.
– and that he wanted to play rugby union again in the future. In league circles, utterly taboo.
“I grew up playing rugby so it was one of the best things. It’s always going to be there and I will eventually go to union.
“It’s another dream and I just want to chase another dream.
“I’ve pretty much got everything in rugby league except a premiership and that’s all I really want, and to win an Origin series.”
In less than 10 minutes, Andrew Fifita made some very big statements – the biggest of all wishing he’d chosen rugby.
Clearly, his ambitions couldn’t keep pace with his mouth.
But surely he was guilty of grade five careless enthusiasm.
Instead, Fifita’s reckless high passion charge was referred straight to the Bulldogs chief executive who, on the next business day, showed him the exit door before he’d even arrived.
The Bulldogs claim Fifita’s frank interview wasn’t the reason for the deal falling over, but admitted “it didn’t help”.
But nowhere did Fifita say he didn’t want to play for the Bulldogs.
He hasn’t been found drunk and disorderly.
He hasn’t beaten anybody up.
He hasn’t broken any laws.
His biggest mistake was perhaps not thinking his comments through fully?
The truth is, no matter what he said he was likely to upset some.
Being interviewed at Shark Park before his comeback game from suspension, of course he’d reaffirm his commitment to the Sharks’ cause.
It would be inappropriate to talk about what he’d like to achieve at the Bulldogs.
Under the current system, a player being able to sign a lucrative contract to join one club but having to play out a full season at another will always create angst among fans.
Saying his “heart’s still in Cronulla and it always will be” and admitting “I may end up back here in four years’ time”, was doubtless over the top – but this was no spray at the Bulldogs.
This was a gentle giant, a sensitive soul trying to please everyone – most of all his wife and 15-month-old son, who Fifita credits for inspiring his career turnaround.
“I always knew I could potentially go far in football but I never really committed to it, or didn’t want to show it until I had a child,” he said.
“That really gave me an eye opener that life’s too short. I realised that to give my son the best in life and my wife the best in life I had to succeed in football.
“Last year, as soon as I had him, it was the life changer of my world. My eyes lit up and as soon as I saw that training paddock, I was a hundred miles an hour.
“I had to get out there and flog myself and do those extras off the paddock. That’s where it got me last year.
“I can’t say the Sharks made me the player I am. I changed my life to be that player.”
Heartfelt words completely overshadowed by a candid confession that one day he’d like to play rugby union again.
We all crave athletes to be honest, to share their dreams.
But when they do, we crop those same tall poppies back to size.
Dream big – just don’t air your dreams.
Tell us how you’re going to give it 100 per cent because it’s a game of two halves and you need to complete your sets to get the job done.
And remember to give full credit to the opposition – but just not the rival code.