CALL it a new lease on Laf – at least that’s what numbers showing Dragons centre Tim Lafai is on track for a career-best season would suggest.
After a forgettable 2016 campaign, marred by injury and off-field drama, the 25-year-old has started the season in barnstorming form, scoring a double in Saturday’s 28-22 win over the Cowboys.
With four tries in seven games, he’s already gone past the tally he managed in 18 appearances last season. He’s also bettered the three line-break assists and equaled his three try-assists while averaging a career-high 13 carries per game for 112 metres.
It's a start that compares favourably to his best ever season with the Bulldogs in 2014 where he finished with 14 tries, eight try-assists and 18 line-breaks in his 20 games.
It comes after his first full preseason in almost two years after he was squeezed out of Canterbury to accommodate Will Hopoate in late 2015, with coach Paul McGregor saying Lafai produced the most dramatic off-season transformation of any player at the club.
“Tim probably had the biggest makeover of any player in the preseason, he really changed the way he attacked it this year,” McGregor said.
“We got him relatively late last season, he spent some time in the preseason at [Canterbury] and had a hamstring [injury] and then a quad so he never really got moving. This year he did everything and he actually won our award at our [preseason] camp.
“I’m just happy for Tim the person because he genuinely cares about his footy team and he genuinely cares about his form. For him to go out there and play like that is certainly nice to see.”
Lafai admits a disrupted season on and off the paddock did put a dent in his confidence, and left him with a point to prove when he returned to Dragons training in November.
“Season’s like , that definitely takes a toll on a player’s confidence but there were some lessons learned and I’m glad that year’s over,” Lafai said.
“After last year I was keen to get into preseason and really prove to the boys and the coaching staff that I was serious about this year and I wanted that spot.
“My body’s probably feeling that best it’s been and just doing a tough preseason and getting through that is really helping me out there on the field.
“The boys are really clicking, the middles are doing their part and the edges are finishing it off. Gaz [Gareth Widdop] is in some good form and we’re really starting to click on that left edge so the boys have just got to keep it up.”
Lafai’s future at the Dragons will likely hinge on whether or not Josh Dugan remains at the club and embraces a proposed shift to the centres, but the Samoan International's return to form is certainly timely given he remains un-signed beyond 2017.
“It would be nice [to stay] but at the end of the day, it’s a business so I've got to do what’s best for me and my family and the Dragons have got to do what’s best for the club,” Lafai said.
“I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m just focused on doing my job for the Dragons and for myself and whatever happens happens.”