The first inclination can be for coaches to overuse a barnstorming talent like David Fifita but if the Maroons use the powerful forward strategically they can get the best out of him in the Origin arena.
Fifita finally gets his chance to prove he is a big-game performer with his first start in the Origin arena in Game I in Townsville.
He missed all of last year’s Ampol State of Origin series due to a knee injury but as a 19-year-old debutant in 2019 he managed just 150 metres across three games in 82 minutes of action playing off the bench.
After setting the NRL ablaze in 2021 with his bulldozing runs - he leads the league for tackle breaks with 78, is third for offloads with 28 and has scored nine tries - the 21-year-old marquee man carries big expectations into his first Origin series as a starting forward.
Maroons greats Trevor Gillmeister and Steve Renouf have urged Queensland to be tactical in their use of Fifita.
Gillmeister said he still needed to improve the defensive side of his game but was excited to see what the 106kg second-rower could produce with more game time in maroon.
New venue, same rivalry: Origin hostilities head north
“I think he is made for Origin. He is big, he is mobile, he is quick and he has a good motor. So hopefully he has a blinder,” Gillmeister said.
“We will need him to really fire up. We need all our forwards to play really well
“He has been very good attack-wise, defensively I think he has a few things he needs to work on still.
“But he is on that edge and he is terrorising the opposition halves. When he gets the ball they all kind of panic and it drags someone else into him to give them a hand and then they can put it behind him or give it to someone else in better space sometimes.”
Fifita is set to play on Queensland’s left edge, with Felise Kaufusi to line up on the right side.
While NSW halfback Nathan Cleary is expected to be Fifita’s main target when he has the ball because he defends on the right, Renouf believes the Maroons should look to get Fifita across the field occasionally so he can zero in on debutant Jerome Luai.
Luai will be one of the NSW players under the most pressure and the five-eighth's defence has not been as strong as Cleary in 2021, with 26 missed tackles compared to 18.
He produced his season-high five missed tackles in his last game for the Panthers and Renouf says the Maroons simply have to find a way to get Fifita at the rookie.
“I think it’s obvious but Luai is going to be target so I would be running big Dave at him,” Renouf said.
Anaconda Fish of Origin - Episode I
“It’s not about him bashing it up either, the team has got to be smart about how they use him.
“He is going to be great on the edge especially when their forwards start getting tired because he is so pacy and has got a good step on him.
“It’s about using him on that edge and he will do his work, but (Cameron) Munster needs to inject him when their forwards are getting a bit tired because he is such an athlete for his size.”
Maroons coach Paul Green expects Fifita to stick to the style of game that has worked for him in the NRL this season.
“One of his strengths is the way he carries the footy,” Green said.
“We’ve got to play to our strengths and hopefully we bring that out for him in the game.
Why do you hate the other state?
“It’s just about doing his job in the team and doing it as well as he can.”
NSW centre Tom Trbojevic said he was ready to handle Fifita, knowing that as the defender on the opposite edge alongside Cleary they were expecting him to run at them all night long.
“Yeah he will probably be on that edge as well, he is another player that is an exceptional ball-runner and we will have to be very good on him,” Trbojevic said.
Gillmeister is concerned about how the Maroons are going to cover the loss of Josh Papalii and Lindsay Collins, two front-rowers from last year’s series triumph.
He believes Tino Fa’asuamaleaui needs to have the game of his life while he is also looking for the likes of Moeaki Fotuaika and Joe Ofahengaue off the bench to show they belong at this level.
“Some blokes you give them an opportunity they just go to another level and then you think ‘wow how good is he going’,” he said.
“I’ve been involved in teams when you don’t have too many (players) to pick from and they just go to another level.
“Some players are super-duper club players but they can’t go to that Origin level. For some reason you can’t put your finger on it. Some blokes can be okay at club level but outstanding at Origin playing with the better players.”