Fifita: Pangai Jr made the right call
Andrew Fifita made his own headlines in 2017 when he gave up a Kangaroos jersey to play for Tonga; now he's supporting Tevita Pangai Jr's decision to choose his heritage over a NSW debut.
Pangai Jr was joined by a host of Tongan teammates in Brisbane earlier this month when discussion turned to who would play in the back-row for Tonga against New Zealand in June. The Brisbane forward shocked those around him when he indicated he would again put his hand up to play for Tonga despite being on the brink of earning a NSW debut.
Pangai Jr called Blues coach Brad Fittler to tell him of the news.
Fifita - who was not at the meeting as he had already returned to Sydney with the rest of the Cronulla squad - made his own headlines in 2017 when he gave up a spot in the Kangaroos squad to play for Tonga.
"I wanted to see him excel for both teams," Fifita said. "I'm a proud New South Welshman and a proud Tongan. If he wanted the experience he could've done it.
"I don't have a say with him. I was backing him with whatever he wanted. He was going to come back to Tonga at the end of the year. If he wanted to experience Origin I would've told him to.
"Maybe he has taken a note out of my book where the pinnacle of our game is play for our country.
"We are playing New Zealand. It might've played out different if we were playing another pacific nation but for us we are finally in the top category versing the big teams. We need to throw our main team.
"It's good to see his decision."
Tonga finally get a rematch against New Zealand on June 22. They have not played against each other since Tonga's shock upset in the 2017 World Cup.
While Fifita would be keen to play games one and three for NSW, he acknowledged the impact his decision alongside Jason Taumalolo had on the international game.
Fifita said he expected Brisbane boom youngsters David Fifita and Kotoni Staggs to also play for Tonga against the Kiwis.
" (Tevita) is trying to change the game as well," Fifita said. "We all made a commitment after the 2017 world cup and we've all stuck solid.
"We know how much it means for our family and culture. We are changing the game in the right way.
"It's no longer a big three. We are part of that despite not being a tier one (country). If you look at the pack and team we're throwing out there, we have the quality.
"We are proud of what we have done."
Fifita was on hand to help launch the Sharks' indigenous jersey on Wednesday. The entire Cronulla squad embarked on a cultural event which saw the likes of Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey try a traditional dance.
"I love indigenous round," Fifita said. "It's great to represent your family. It means the world for me.
"The best way for (the non-indigenous players) to get an understanding of it is to embrace it. You see Chad and Jayden get up there and dance. Being non-indigenous and getting up there to try things it means so much to our people."