If Cronulla do ban Andrew Fifita, it could prove a fatal blow to their finals chances with statistics showing he has rebounded from his NSW axing to be one of the NRL’s most-damaging forwards this year.
Fifita’s immediate future is at a crossroads after being stood down indefinitely by the Sharks as he and brother David face allegations of abusing a referee last weekend during a Penrith local junior match.
The Sharks won’t take into account Fifita’s purple patch when handing down their punishment but figures show he’s been in bustling form, leading the league’s big men in several key attacking categories.
According to Fox Sports Stats, Fifita leads the NRL’s props for linebreaks and tries with seven apiece.
He also is ranked third for the game’s forwards for metres gained in 2015, running for an average of 157 metres from his 16 games.
Additionally, his 66 tackle busts are the second most of any forward.
His loss would leave a sizeable hole for the rest of the Sharks’ pack to fill, averaging 55 minutes, 20.4 possessions, four tackle busts and 23.8 tackles per game.
It must be noted, though, that he has given away the second-most penalties with 19.
The Sharks sit sixth, two wins in front of ninth-placed Canberra, but the next three weeks will have a big say on their top-eight hopes as they face the Warriors (8th), North Queensland (2nd) and Melbourne (5th).
It is understood Penrith and District Junior Rugby League (PDJRL) officials on Thursday met the NRL integrity unit to present their evidence against the Fifita brothers.
The pair have been handed breach notices for 12-month bans from PDJRL games and will defend some of the allegations at a hearing on Tuesday.
The Sharks are waiting to be presented with evidence by the PDJRL with the brothers’ fate to be decided by the club board and chief executive Lyall Gorman.
The club will not make a decision on the case before this weekend with Gorman set to travel to Auckland on Friday morning to watch the side take on the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium.
The NRL will wait for the Sharks’ determination and will only step in if it deems it inappropriate.
HIGHS AND LOWS:
Andrew Fifita’s NRL season by the numbers:
* Games: 16
* Average minutes: 55
* Tries: 7
* Linebreaks: 7
* Average possessions: 20.4
* Tackle busts: 66
* Average tackles: 23.8
* Average missed tackles: 1.4
* Offloads: 28
* Errors: 16
* Penalties: 19