Lafai's last laugh on weekend of upsets
When Tim Lafai scored the match-winning try on debut, first he thanked God. Then he thanked God it was against South Sydney, the club that once dumped him.
Insomuch as there can be upsets in round two of any sporting competition, it was a weekend of them in the NRL. Cronulla inflicted St George Illawarra’s first loss in 211 days, bashing the Dragons 16-10 on a rainswept Toyota Park in Monday Night Football.
Penrith’s 20-6 success over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium on Friday night was only slightly less startling, considering their respective first round performances. Brisbane was given little chance at Canberra Stadium on the same evening and came away 20-4 victors.
And the scope of injury- and suspension-riddled Manly’s 27-16 triumph over Sydney Roosters at the SFS on Sunday is still being assessed by the Sea Eagles’ energised group of loyal fans.
So there the Bulldogs were, 13 minutes to go against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, down 19-18, and all ready to be added to the list of surprise losers above. Bunnies fullback Rhys Wesser pulled of what would normally be regarded as an heroic try-saving tackle on Steve Turner.
But Wesser hung on too long. He was sent to the sin bin. And within a few seconds, 19-year-old Lafai was over to put his side in front for the last time. “I thank the Lord for this opportunity,” he said at fulltime.
“I played SG Ball at Souths but they didn’t want to take me. So I went back to Campbelltown – I’m from Minto near there – and I played Bundaberg Cup. The Doggies scouted me from there.
“(Being dumped by Souths) was a setback but I pulled my socks up, kept my head up and kept going.”
Although Lafai can remember Souths first grade coach Jason Taylor coming to training, the Bunnies point out that Souths Juniors ran the SG Ball team he was in - not the Rabbitohs seniors.
Even the most devout Christian is allowed to feel happy proving someone wrong, isn’t he? “Yeah, mate. I’m pretty happy, eh? Good feeling.”
If Minto rings a bell, it should. It’s the south-western Sydney suburb that gave us Jarryd Hayne and Israel Folau, and which is now a key battleground in the war with Aussie Rules. “I remember, as a kid, watching those guys play in the park,” he said. “It was pretty cool.
“I wasn’t playing good footy at Souths. My confidence was down. I’d had a big operation the year before. It makes it hard if you don’t got straight from SG Ball to 20s but I always thought I could still make it if I worked hard. I’m lucky Peter Mulholland from the Bulldogs found me.”
And so, with the help of the youngest and one of the oldest players in their team (Lafai and the final tryscorer, 269-game Andrew Ryan), the Dogs survived the prevailing trend of the weekend. So did Newcastle, who travelled to Dairy Farmers Stadium and remained undefeated by beating North Queensland 34-22 on Saturday night.
Melbourne, likewise, went up a gear by thrashing Gold Coast 40-12 at AAMI Park on Saturday evening while Wests Tigers edged out the Warriors somewhat controversially, 20-12, at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday evening. “The comp’s really topsy-turvy at the moment and it’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on,” Dragons coach Wayne Bennett observed on Monday evening.
Lafai gets another chance to show Souths what they missed out on when he takes on Sydney Roosters this Sunday.
Across the Tasman at the same time, in the premiers’ second overseas game in four starts, Bennett can search for handles and while wearing jandals.