Jojo Fifita has followed his father’s professional footy career all around the world. Now it’s his turn to shine.
The 19-year-old will play for Queensland Under 19 side on Thursday night in Sydney after a journey in more ways than one. His father, Pila Fifita, enjoyed a stellar career in rugby union which culminated in a World Cup appearance.
“Dad played mostly rugby union, but also rugby league when he was younger and he loved it,” Fifita said.
“Dad played professionally. He played in the Rugby World Cup in 2003 for Tonga. He played in New Zealand, Europe [for Saracens] and in Japan for Sanix Blues. We did a lot of travelling when I was younger.
“I lived in Japan for four or five years and used to speak Japanese when I was younger, although I’ve lost it now.
“All the boys in the family were born in a different place. Dad was born in Tonga, my younger brother in Japan, the youngest one in Australia and I was born in New Zealand.
“Dad has been a huge inspiration. His best advice has been to keep doing all the little one-percenters that other people don’t know about. Even when they don’t know you are doing it, the key is to keep doing it yourself.”
An outside back who can play wing or centre, Fifita is as close as it gets to making his NRL debut after being 18th man for the Gold Coast Titans against the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday.
“I am getting pretty close. I’ve just got to keep pushing and hopefully I get a chance this year, or at least next year,” Fifita said.
“I’m enjoying it at the Titans. We all push each other.
“I’ve got a lot out of Brian Kelly and Pat Herbert. They both play centre, the position I am going for, and they give me tips at training.”
Fifita attended rugby union powerhouse The Southport School (TSS), also the former school of Queensland Maroons flyer Mat Rogers, who carved out a career as a dual-international.
He had interest from rugby union franchises but chose to join the Titans and have a crack at league.
“I wanted to challenge myself, try something new and see which pathway I enjoy more,” Fifita said.
“From my year at TSS there was Zane Nonggorr and George Blake who went to the Reds. They all stuck with union. I don’t think anyone went back to league.
“I learned a lot at TSS from our coach Mike Wallace. He was hard on us and pushed us. I reckon he did a really good job with us.”
In rugby union, Fifita was an outside centre and he would often clash at schoolboy level with now Under 19s teammate Jack Howarth, who played rugby for Brisbane Boys College.
“It was me and him going against each other. That was scary… for both of us,” Fifita grinned.
“I also played with Jack for Queensland under 16s rugby union when he was outside centre and I was on the wing playing outside him. They were good times.”
Queensland Under 19 coach Kurt Richards said Fifita had progressed nicely in his rugby league journey and would offer plenty in both attack and defence.
“Jojo has had a real accelerated learning period in rugby league,” Richards said.
“It hasn’t come naturally for him from the word go, but over the last 12 to 18 months, the Titans have done a really good of progressing him, as has Ben Woolf at the Tweed Seagulls.
“Jojo is a big, strong carrier of the ball and I like the way in defence that he doesn’t give his man time or space. That’s what we are going to need from him.”
Fifita said the showdown against New South Wales was “definitely a big one” for him.
“A lot of people are going to be watching this and it will be all about which players can show their skill and shine the most,” Fifita said.
“If the team comes together, I know we will play well.”
Match: NSW U19s v QLD U19s
Round 1 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Hero image: Jojo Fifita in Coffs Harbour by Cameron Stallard/Gold Coast Titans