Monday Buzz: Problem child highlights Sharks’ woes
There were always fears with the appointment of coach John Morris at the Cronulla Sharks that he would struggle to deal with the more challenging personalities at the club.
Characters like Andrew Fifita can be difficult to manage for even the most experienced coaches, let alone a 38-year-old first-year rookie who needs to keep the players onside.
At the risk of being publicly labelled a "complete f … wit" on a UFC podcast like the last time I criticised Fifita, the story of his ill-discipline, and how it is costing the Sharks, needs to be told.
Fifita has not aimed up this year. His lack of self-control is one of many reasons why the club will not play finals football this year.
Again it was there for all to see against the Warriors in Wellington on Friday night.
In the 68th minute, the Sharks were leading by two points and hanging on grimly. They had lost four straight games and their season was on the line. They had 12 minutes to save it.
Fifita recklessly jumped out of the defensive line and flattened Lachlan Burr, without the football. He was sin-binned, the Warriors got the penalty goal and then the matchwinning field goal.
Under these circumstances, most coaches would be holding the player to account. I know Shane Flanagan would have in previous years.
Instead, Morris praised Fifita.
"Andrew was trying to do a good thing for the team,'' Morris said.
"He's our spiritual leader. He loves trying to lead from the front.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve and is always trying to come up with a big play for the team."
At least Morris added: "Time over again he'd probably stay in his system as we practise and not shoot out and whack that bloke. Sometimes you've got to think with your head before your heart."
This was Fifita's second game back from a three-week suspension for a crusher tackle.
He ran only 44m in his first game back against Melbourne Storm and just 68m against the Warriors. This is an $800,000-a-year front-rower who used to get up towards 200m a game.
Now Fifita has again been banned. He was charged by the match-review committee and looks set to miss Thursday night's match against the Cowboys.
In fairness, the Tongan international is not the only player at Cronulla who has been difficult for the first-year coach.
Many big names - including Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson, Josh Dugan, Aaron Woods, Matt Prior and even Chad Townsend - have not aimed up. Paul Gallen is struggling in his last year and Wade Graham can't get on to the park.
The Dugan story is as touchy as Fifita. He's on an outrageous $800,000 for another two seasons. His best position is now on the wing but Morris won't pick him there because he sulks at training all week.
For one game, Morris even moved the game's most exciting young centre Bronson Xerri to the wing to keep the peace.
Coaching is a demanding job, especially on first-year coaches. Morris played alongside Fifita, Prior, Graham, Gallen and Sosaia Feki before he retired in 2014. Nathan Brown had almost the identical situation when coaching the Dragons from 2003 to 2008 and it didn't work out.
Morris is a good man and, technically, a good coach. Yet he needs to understand it is not a popularity contest.