DURING a torturous pre-season boot camp, Tim Lafai proved to coach Paul McGregor he still had a future at the Dragons. Lafai’s career nosedived when he was stood down last year, after being charged for affray and offensive behaviour outside a Wollongong nightclub.
He and Siliva Havili were reinstated following a player backlash, which led to him returning for the final two rounds of the season.
The pair will front court again in April over the incident and there had been ongoing speculation Lafai would be moved on to another NRL club. But Lafai had other ideas.
During the three-day camp, run by Army officers, at Nowra in January, Lafai was handed the award for most outstanding leadership, proving to his teammates he wanted to play a big role in this year’s campaign.
“Timmy’s had an outstanding pre-season,” McGregor said on Friday.
“When we had the camp in January with the Army guys, those guys judged (the award), which is really important. He came back in great shape in November and he continues that. And he’s got a point to prove, that’s the best way, you want a player with a point to prove, he’s a quality player.” Lafai has impressed McGregor enough to earn a starting spot in Saturday’s NRL season opener against Penrith’s UOW Jubilee Oval.
It denies Kurt Mann a place in the team, despite finishing last year with 10 tries from his last 11 games.
Moving from the Bulldogs, Lafai scored three tries in 18 games last year, as the Dragons struggled to find any attacking fire, finishing 11th.
Confirming Shellharbour junior Jai Field will play a utility role off the bench, McGregor said the team had drawn up new pointscoring plans in a bid to return to finals action.
“We’ve got to leave last year as last year,” McGregor said. “We’ve got new players and we’ve certainly got a different strategy. We’ve got less coaches (involved this year), so more time has been put into the players we have and how we’re going to get the points.”
Penrith have only won four times in 28 games at Kogarah since coming into the competition, but have been victorious in the past two.
“We love the excitement around how tough (Penrith) are going to be,” McGregor said. “Because they are some people’s (premiership) favourites, but that doesn’t mean too much to be honest with you.”
DRAGONS v PANTHERS
UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah (4.30pm)
TV: Live on Fox Sports League