Justin Holbrook explains decision to bench Titans enforcer David Fifita

Star second-rower David Fifita was moved to the Titans bench in a surprise decision ahead of their match against the Panthers on Friday night.

The 22-year-old has been criticised this year for a lack of involvement this season, even playing at centre last round in an experimental change.

Following their 18-4 loss to the league-leading Panthers, Titans coach Justin Holbrook explained that starting Fifita on the bench was done with the intention of maximizing the output of their million-dollar man.

“I just thought that we need impact from him. He’s not your sort of standard player – he’s one that can offer a big impact,” Holbrook said.

“So that’s why we’ve not worried about interchanges … just have him sit out the early part of the game and expect him to be able to play a big part in the back end of the game.

“I thought if he’s fit and right, you know, we’re a chance.”

The decision – at least for this match – did not seem to pay off, with Fifita’s impact fairly limited.

He made a relatively conservative eight runs for a total of 64 run metres, and was not able to stamp his typical authority on the game.

This could partly be due to a potential medial knee injury, with Holbrook confirming post-match that he will now be assessed by the medical team.

Regardless of the injury, the Titans coach remained steadfast in his approach, suggesting that starting Fifita on the bench could be a long-term strategy.

“I’d rather his 60 minutes be full of quality, rather than get gassed and try and push into 80 [minutes] just for the sake of it,” he explained.

“Penrith haven’t done it for a few weeks, but they used to always play [Viliame] Kikau for 30 [minutes], then get him off and get him back on, so he’d only play 60 minutes.

“I’d like the luxury of [doing that with Fifita], but then you’ve got to worry about your middles. 

“Tino [Fa’asuamaleaui] played huge minutes for us tonight and that’s what puts us under pressure.”

It was a promising all-around display from the Titans, who held the reigning premiers to a scoreless first half before falling away in the second half.

Despite the defeat, Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui was buoyed by his team’s attitude against the Panthers but accepted they are far from a finished product.

“Obviously, it was better than last week,” Fa’asuamaleaui said.

“All the boys worked hard today and showed a lot of urgency, but as Justin [Holbrook] said, we’ve got to back it up next week.

“It’s better to play for a side that’s working hard and has your back. Last week we didn’t really have any of that.

“It’s good signs, but there are a lot of things that we need to work on.”

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