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‘The mana of five men’: Why Fisher-Harris is a natural as captain

Amid the doom and gloom of his Māori side being decimated by player withdrawals ahead of their clash with the Indigenous All Stars earlier this year, John Devonshire received a message that suggested none of it would matter as long as James Fisher-Harris was the captain.  

“A comment popped up on Facebook that week and it said, ‘don’t worry about it, James Fisher-Harris has the mana (power/presence) of five men’,” Devonshire, the chair of the NZ Māori Rugby League, recalls.

“Never was a truer word spoken. It really sums up the man."

On the face of it ‘Fish’ is far from a conventional choice to captain an international rugby league team, especially when Kiwis coach Michael Maguire had plenty of players to pick from following incumbent skipper Jesse Bromwich's decision to step aside prior to the Pacific Championships. 

Fisher-Harris is a man of very few words in public settings and by all accounts usually has little to say behind closed doors either.

Fisher-Harris leads from the front

But when you walk the walk as well he does, talk becomes less important.

It's for those reasons that Isaah Yeo – his long-time captain at club level for the Panthers, and for this Saturday afternoon in the Pacific Championships final an arch-rival as a member of the Kangaroos – believed it was only a matter of time until Fisher-Harris became skipper of the Kiwis. 

“It's no surprise. You could really see his development over the past few years and his growth in leadership,” Yeo told

“Because he doesn't say too much, when he does [talk] he means it and he wants to see a reaction.

You only need to look at the tape to see how he leads on the field. He takes the first carry, turns up for everyone in defence and when the going gets tough in big games he just seems to step up and lead.

Isaah Yeo

“His actions speak for themselves, that’s why he’s captain.

“He's an easy one to follow because of what he does.”

Intense face-off follows ominous Haka

After dipping his toes in the captaincy pool at last year's World Cup, when he stood in for a match against Jamaica, Fisher-Harris has impressed teammates both young and old with his approach during the Pacific Championships. 

When quizzed on his experiences with 'JFH', who he has been leading the haka alongside for the past two weeks, prop Leo Thompson summed his feelings up with a powerful closing statement – "I'll follow him anywhere". 

On Saturday at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, Fisher-Harris will be looking to lead New Zealand to their first tournament victory over Australia since the 2014 Four Nations.

The hulking front-rower and centre Joey Manu are also the lone Kiwis who remain from New Zealand's last Test win over Australia, which came five years ago in Auckland. 

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.