Dynamic forward James Fisher-Harris is part of the Penrith Panthers’ burgeoning association with Northland and the surge in players from the region representing New Zealand over the past decade.
Hailing from the small town of Rawene in the Hokianga, Fisher-Harris’ promise while playing for Whangarei Marist Brothers attracted the interest of the Panthers in 2013. He turned out for the club’s SG Ball and NYC teams, winning a premiership with the latter in 2015 partnering fellow Hokianga-bred forward – and fellow future Kiwi – Corey Harawira-Naera in the second-row.
The 20-year-old made his NRL debut off the bench in Round 1 of the 2016 season and was a permanent fixture in burgeoning Penrith’s line-up, eventually nailing down a position as a tackle-busting second-rower. After playing in both of the Panthers’ finals matches, Fisher-Harris capped a stellar rookie year with selection in New Zealand’s Four Nations squad. His only appearance on tour was as an interchange in the Kiwis’ shock 18-all draw with Scotland in Workington.
Fisher-Harris was named NZRL’s Junior Player of the Year. But he endured an injury-hit follow-up season and missed the Kiwis’ Rugby League World Cup campaign.
Moving to a middle forward role with the Panthers in 2018, the tyro upped his work-rate and gained a place in the Kiwis’ squad for the Denver Test against England. Following a third straight NRL finals campaign, Fisher-Harris started in the No.13 jersey in New Zealand’s 26-24 upset of Australia in Auckland and featured in the first two Tests against England in England.
While Penrith fell down the premiership ladder in 2019, Fisher-Harris took his performances to a new level. The 23-year-old workhorse played every game, averaging 42.9 tackles (first in the NRL among non-hookers) and 132.9 metres (16th among the competition’s forwards) to take out the Panthers’ Player of the Year honour.
Fisher-Harris came off the bench in the Kiwis’ mid-season victory over Mate Ma’a Tonga but a pectoral muscle tear ruled him out of the World Cup Nines and the subsequent Tests against Australia and Great Britain.
The front-row hardman earned recognition as one of the NRL’s best forwards in 2020, however, named in the Dally M Team of the Year and playing an integral role in the Panthers’ drive to their first grand final in 17 years.
Fisher-Harris, who passed the 100-game milestone for Penrith during the season, led the competition in post-contact metres and was the top forward in terms of total run metres.
JFH maintained his status as one of the game’s engine-room benchmarks in a stellar 2021, which began with the Preston Campbell Medal as player of the match in Māori All Stars’ 10-all draw with Indigenous All Stars. He again earned a spot in the Dally M Team of the Year after finishing 12th in the overall Player of the Year count – and first among forwards – before helping spearhead the Panthers’ unforgettable drive to premiership glory.
Fisher-Harris was superb up front in the gripping grand final triumph over South Sydney and was an automatic pick in the Kiwis’ wider World Cup squad.