Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita is set to play his first NRL game in six weeks when the Sharks meet South Sydney in Sunday’s elimination NRL final.
Fifita, 26, hasn’t played since round 20 after copping a six-week ban for abusing a referee at a junior game in July.
His return was in doubt after sustaining a tear to what coach Shane Flanagan referred to as a rare caveman muscle in his calf – only present in a small percentage of the population – at training last week.
However the 26-year-old completed a field session with the side in Woollooware on Wednesday, finishing off with a rapid sparring routine with teammate Sam Tagataese in front of reporters.
“You can ask my ribs – he’s obviously raring to go,” Tagataese said.
“He’s got some power in those punches, man. He’s ready for Sunday arvo.”
Fifita’s comeback will be a welcome return to a Sharks side that stumbled into September with a shock loss to Manly in the final game of the regular season, costing them a top-four spot.
Tagataese said the former NSW Origin representative had been sorely missed.
“Andrew provides those freakish plays where it seems like the team’s going nowhere, then he comes in and makes a big play,” he said.
“Having him back on Sunday is definitely a bonus for us.”
Second-rower Wade Graham said Fifita is an X-factor whose presence lifts the confidence of the playing group.
“Not a lot of big men can do what Andrew can do, can move the way he does, the skill he has,” he said.
“He just brings that extra big body for us, takes the pressure off (Paul) Gallen and (Chris) Heighington.”
While the Sharks have been boosted by the return of one of the game’s premier big men, as well as twin brother David, the Rabbitohs will be without one of their own key props in George Burgess, who will be seeking a downgrade on a contrary conduct charge for throwing a bottle last week.
The 23-year-old is certain to miss at least one game, but could miss two should he fail to overturn the charge at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.
Tagataese said Burgess’ absence, together with Fifita’s return, would give them an advantage against the defending premiers.
“It can be a bit of a bonus and a negative where we could probably think we can take it easy. The key thing for us is muscling up against them and use (Burgess’ suspension) to our advantage,” he said.