Fifita forges ahead
Brisbane Broncos rising young gun David Fifita has been likened to former Maroons star Ben Te'o, only with better ball skills, so it is no surprise his schoolboy coach insists he will play for Australia.
NRL.com can reveal the Broncos re-signed Fifita, who turns 18 this month, during the pre-season until the end of 2020, keeping him at the club through the crucial stages of his development.
Fifita made his Broncos debut on Saturday night against CQ Capras in a trial, scoring a try and impressing with his one-handed offloads, involvement, mobility and game awareness.
Broncos assistant coach Kurt Richards has played a key role in his progress and said that while Fifita still had a lot to learn, he would get more of a chance to develop in the Intrust Super Cup this year with Souths-Logan before being introduced into the NRL.
"We don't want to throw him into the deep end too early," Richards told NRL.com.
"We want him to play against men for a while first, get his opportunities and then grow from there. We don't want to throw him in against seasoned, hardened footballers when he is still learning the game.
"David has some physical stuff to still work on with his body and when he is ready Wayne [Bennett] will give him his opportunity."
The interest in Fifita has been considerable, and was heightened last year when commentator Andrew Voss gave the then Keebra Park High student the ultimate wrap.
Voss, who writes a weekly column for NRL.com, said in a Fox Sports column of Fifita: "I'm putting forward this young bloke as the best schoolboy forward I have ever seen in over 20 years of calling the [GIO Cup] competition."
NRL.com spoke to Fifita's Keebra Park High schoolboy coach Glen Campbell and the former long-time head of the school's rugby league program Greg Lenton about their former student.
"David reminds me of Ben Te'o, who also came through our program," Lenton said.
"He has got that rare ability to break the line, he's got good feet and for a big man he is quite quick.
"Defensively he is good, he runs really good lines and he has great confidence in himself like Ben did."
While in the emerging Queensland under 18s camp the QRL put together a video on Fifita where he said Campbell had been a key mentor in his development.
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Campbell coached Fifita from grade eight right through until he left school last year.
"David has better ball skills than Ben Te'o, but they have the same running style and a very similar build," Campbell said.
"He's always has a beautiful one-handed offload. I encouraged him to keep using it and it became better and better as time went on.
"I hope they don't take it out of his game because he can bust the line and get his right hand free and offload either side of his body. It is a real asset."
Campbell said Fifita "dominated whether it be schoolboys, the club system or state level schoolboy stuff".
"He played Australian Schoolboys and was player of the tour for the team. It is very hard to handle a mobile 110 to 112kg back-rower when you are under 18," he said.
"He is just a very gifted footballer and it is my prediction that he will play for Australia."
Campbell said Fifita was "super dedicated", no exaggeration when you consider the four-hour round trip he made each day to attend school and develop his game.
"Each day he would catch the train from Ipswich into Brisbane and then down to school at the Gold Coast, and back, and he barely missed a day. He did that for all his schooling with us from the age of 12," Campbell said.
"That sort of dedication is just unheard of. David was a kid who knew what he wanted and he is now reaping the rewards."
Fifita's manager, former Sydney Roosters centre Steve Deacon, said his client had benefited from being in the Broncos system.
"We had plenty of interest, being the calibre of player he is, but he was only an under 17 kid at school when a lot of them are under 18," Deacon said.
"David is still living at home, so for anyone that age to relocate is not a good thing.
"He has gone from Mal Meninga Cup training straight into an NRL squad, which is a pretty big jump.
"A lot of kids can get carried away with the accolades, but David is very respectful and thankful."
Lenton said the stars may have aligned for Fifita to get an early opportunity.
"Jai Arrow, who is now at the Titans, never got the run at it when he was at the Broncos because of the players who were around like Corey Parker," Lenton said.
"I think that young Fifita, with the players around at the moment, will end up getting his chance."