ANDREW Fifita always dreamed of making it big in rugby league. But he never, ever dreamed of a year like this.
It’s easy to forget at the start of the year, the Griffith Waratahs product was a 114kg stack of unrealised potential, and not much more.
Yet in his breakout NRL season, the accolades have come thick and fast for the 24-year-old – and no thicker or faster than in the past week, when Fifita was named Dally M Prop of the Year, and then handed his first Australian jersey.
Fifita told The Area News his Dally M nod was one of the proudest moments of his career thus far.
“It shocked me, it really did,” he said.
“I couldn’t speak (when they announced it), I was stunned.
“And now it’s just really starting to hit that I’m a different kind of player now and everything’s starting to happen for me in life.”
It was no less than what Fifita deserved given the incredible numbers he put up this season, averaging more than 150 meters per game across 26 rounds off the bench for Cronulla, for whom he was also leading tryscorer.
His NSW Origin selection was a no-brainer, but his Kangaroos call-up for this month’s Rugby League World Cup in England and Wales will see him reunited with Tim Sheens, the coach who thought he wasn’t good enough for the Wests Tigers in 2011.
Fifita never harboured any ill feelings for Sheens, but admits forcing his way into his Australian squad feels like the end of one chapter in his career - and the start of the next.
“It’s like any kind of work - if you’re not putting in then they get rid of you,” Fifita said.
“They told me they didn’t have enough money in the salary cap and it was fair enough, and I left.
“But we left on good terms and that’s the important part. He told me to stick with my footy because you always come out in the end.”
And come out he has.
Now Fifita is just waiting for the moment when it actually hits him that he’s an Australian player.
“With Origin, it didn’t hit until I was in that team photo with the squad. It’ll probably be the same with the Aussie squad,” he said.
“Or maybe it won’t hit until Sheensy names me to play. I don’t care what team it’s against, as long as I’m in the green and gold.
“Even if I don’t play, actually, I’ll be happy because I can say I was in the squad at the World Cup. It’s a great honour just to be there watching it.”
Fifita leaves on Monday with the Australian side, which will mark his first ever trip to Europe - one that he’s looking forward to. Sort of.
“I’ve never been. I don’t know, I’m a bit afraid of it.” What, of the long-haul flight? “No, the cold,” he laughed.
“I don’t like cold weather. I know what Griffith’s like in the morning and that but apparently it’s even worse, my brother was saying.”