The rapid deterioration in Fifita’s state came as a surprise after the events of the second half, with the prop leaving the field only six minutes after the interval.
Sharks trainers and teammates noticed his voice had changed when he spoke and shouted encouragement from the sideline. But it was only after full-time that the situation become grave, as Fifita realised he was struggling to breathe, prompting panic inside the dressing room that could be heard outside.
NRL judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew took the unusual step of allowing the match review committee until Tuesday morning to finalise charges from the match as they scoured for further vision of incidents involving Fifita’s 13-minute stint.
Given the venue does not usually host NRL matches, the MRC only had camera angles from the television broadcast available to analyse.
Sources have told the Herald a collision between Fifita and former State of Origin teammate David Klemmer only two minutes into the second half is believed to be the incident in which Fifita damaged his larynx.
Newcastle prop Klemmer slightly raised his arms as he carried the ball into Fifita and could be seen making contact around his throat. From the angles seen so far, it is expected Klemmer won’t be charged over what seemed like an innocuous incident.
Fifita left the field a few minutes later after an attempted tackle on Tyson Frizell, with the Knights scoring on the next play.
The prop walked off as the bunker checked Enari Tuala’s try and Fifita could be seen standing next to the Sharks bench metres from Jake Clifford’s attempted conversion moments later. He was handed a mask to put on while he was an interchange player.
Fifita left the field a minute before half-time for a head injury assessment after a tackle involving Knights utility Kurt Mann, but that did not damage his throat.
The Sharks released a statement on Sunday night saying Fifita had “reported difficulty swallowing” as he suffered from a “significant laryngeal injury”.
“He is receiving the best possible care and all going well, it is expected he will recover in hospital for an extended period,” the Sharks said in a statement on Monday night.
“Andrew’s wife Nikki and the Fifita family have expressed their appreciation to all who have sent messages of support and offered well wishes.”
Newcastle’s senior assistant Rory Kostjasyn suffered a similar injury, which forced his retirement, while Melbourne’s Tom Eisenhuth has made a recovery from a throat problem to be a key member of the title favourites’ squad.
Fifita has one year to run on his lucrative deal with the Sharks, which have a shortage of front-rowers with Aiden Tolman facing a one-game suspension with an early guilty plea over a cannonball tackle on Daniel Saifiti from the same match.
Braden Hamlin-Uele can accept a $750 fine for a high tackle on Connor Watson.
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