Andrew Fifita of the NSW Blues during game one of the State of Origin series.
Andrew Fifita of the NSW Blues during game one of the State of Origin series. DAVE HUNT

Big Artie comes back to life

RUGBY league fans of a younger generation who have heard of the wonderful talents of Immortal Arthur Beetson but have only viewed glimpses of them on grainy TV footage were able to take a trip down memory lane on Wednesday night.

As someone who saw Big Artie play, revered him as a player and greatly admired him as a person, I would never disrespect him by claiming Andrew Fifita to be of his ilk. But at Suncorp Stadium two nights ago the roly-poly NSW prop came damn close.

Regular readers on this column will know that Fifita has never been a pin-up boy of mine. Sure, I have long admired his footballing ability, but his antics, both on and the off the field, have irritated me no end.

But I am not blind or bigoted to the point that credit is not given where it is due. And in Origin game one Fifita was magnificent - Beetson-esque, in fact.

Although the score was a blowout at the end, it was Fifita who made the difference in what was one of the fastest, most evenly contested first halves of Origin footy I have witnessed in the 37 years of the contest.

He scattered Queensland forwards like ninepins as his Beetson-like one-handed offload led to the first try of the match in the sixth minute, and then again left players in his wake as he put the Blues in position for a try right on half-time, which no doubt broke the hearts - and maybe even the spirit - of the boys in Maroon. And then he showed dexterous skill to pounce on a dropped ball and score 13 minutes into the second half, which put a rare Origin victory safely in the hands of the Blues.

Yet while they were the stand-out moments from the 120kg behemoth, his contribution was much, much more.

In just 48 minutes on the field, Fifita ran for 183 metres, less than only backs James Tedesco, Dane Gagai and Will Chambers, each of whom played the entire match. He also made 21 tackles, with just the single miss.

But arguably the most impressive stat from the big man - one of the most penalised player in the NRL in recent seasons - was his discipline. He made zilch handling errors and did not concede a penalty.

His was a memorable performance, absolutely worthy of the coveted man-of-the-match award and each and every bouquet that has flowed his way since. We can only hope that for a man with a greatly troubled past, Fifita can grow into a person that befits his new-found playing reputation.

But while praising Fifita, it should not be forgotten that Beetson had all of what the Sharks prop displayed on Wednesday night, and more.

His demeanour away from the game was that of a thorough gentleman, a caring man who became the first indigenous Australian to captain a national sporting team. He nurtured his people, especially talented young sporting talent.

And like Fifita, he carried a few extra kilos yet was a supreme athlete, as nimble on the squash court, for instance, as he was on a rugby league field. But Big Artie was never a goose, a tag Fifita now - hopefully - wants to lose.

News Corp Australia

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