Paul Gallen has launched an impassioned defence of former teammate Andrew Fifita after he was dropped to reserves.

Cronulla Sharks icon Paul Gallen has launched an impassioned defence of struggling former teammate Andrew Fifita after he was dropped to reserve grade for the NRL season-opener.

Fifita turned out for the Newtown Jets over the weekend, the Sharks’ feeder side in the NSW Cup, marking a difficult milestone in the 2016 premiership winner’s career.

The star forward has struggled in recent seasons to find his best football, and has seen himself slip out of Cronulla’s first-string side under the leadership of John Morris.

Speaking on Nine’s 100% Footy, Nine’s chief rugby league reporter Danny Weidler reported Fifita had seen himself on the outer due to his efforts in defence, but Gallen explained a much more detailed and difficult story happening behind the scenes.

Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita. (Getty)

WEIDLER: “Andrew has been a great player for the Sharks for a long time and he’s shown surprising restraint for not lashing out at the coach (for playing reserve grade). He trained very hard in the off-season, he dropped 17kg, but I think the reason he’s not playing first grade was their defence. They could always score points. They’re obviously trying to make their defence better and they figure Andrew Fifita being not there is helping their defence.”

GALLEN: “No I don’t think that’s right at all. “He’s struggling with his knee. He’s struggling with his speed, his mobility. At his age and his size, and the way the game is going, he’s struggling with that mobility.

“He’ll play first grade this season again for sure. I’ve got to say his attitude has been absolutely outstanding. For a guy that’s done what he has in the game, to be dropped to reserve grade – he didn’t have to play reserve grade – but he turned out played. His leadership has been outstanding.”

WEIDLER: “The word was that he was not even in the first couple of teams at the Sharks. That he was very much on the outer in this off-season, is that right?”

GALLEN: “Look, there’s no doubt that he’s not in the top-17 at this point in time. But I’m not going to say it’s because he can’t tackle or it’s because of his defence.”

WEIDLER: “I’m not saying he can’t tackle, that’s the theory.

GALLEN: “Well, that’s not correct. No. He’s struggling with his mobility, his knee is short the poor bloke. He’s got two years left on contract, and fingers crossed he can see them out and play some good footy.”

NRL

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