ANDREW Fifita’s former coach at the Griffith Blacks has given his stamp of approval to a potential big-money code switch to rugby union for the Cronulla sensation.
The NSW and Australian representative is mulling over an offer from Wallabies coach Ewan McKenzie to jump across to the 15-man code when his current contract expires at the end of the year.
Fifita initially laughed off any interest in leaving rugby league to The Area News when reports of a secret meeting with McKenzie went public last month, but told The Daily Telegraph last week he was seriously considering the opportunity.
The 114kg wrecking ball famously spent his weekends in Griffith playing for the Blacks in Southern Inland Rugby Union on Saturdays before backing up the next day for the Waratahs in Group 20.
But while Fifita chose to pursue league, becoming one of the best prop forwards in the world, he could have also made it in union, according to his Blacks mentor Ashley Gunn.
“You always knew he was going to be successful at footy, it was just a matter of which one,” said Gunn, who was coach in 2008.
“I always thought he was more inclined to stick with rugby league, because that was a bit more mainstream and positionally, he was a bit more suited.
“But for us, was always big and strong and had plenty of talent, and he was full of life, Andrew – always 100 miles an hour.
“He was only 19 then playing against
30-year-olds so you could imagine (how strong).
“He was good rugby player and I always got the impression he very much enjoyed rugby, but I never, ever thought he’d prefer it over league.”
Fifita has declared staying on with Cronulla is his preferred option but should the lure of a Wallabies jersey prove too strong, the question would then become where to put him.
Having ballooned in weight after leaving Griffith, the hulking Fifita now has the build to play rugby union in the forwards - but Gunn doubts that’s where the 24-year-old would be best suited.
Back in 2008, Gunn played the then-lightweight Fifita in the centres, where he played representative rugby for SIRU before joining the Brumbies’ development squad.
“The forwards was never his go - he always liked to do a bit more running rather than the tight stuff,” Gunn said.
“You’d have him out the back, he’s more dangerous and he likes the loose stuff, he likes running the ball.
“His size has changed a lot but it’s a lot different, number eight, than the front row in league.
“I just think in rugby, he’s a bit like Sonny Bill Williams - not to compare them as players, but you wouldn’t put SBW in the forwards in rugby and you wouldn’t do that with Andrew either.
“It depends on his training regime. You saw when SBW came back to league he was a lot lighter.
“He’d be really good in rugby but it would be depending on whether he can go back to being an inside back.”
Fifita is believed to be keen to make a decision one way or another before the new NRL season kicks off in March.