How good is... Tim Lafai
How good is Tim Lafai? You mean, other than his ability to get up from a tackle without a strand of his slick back hair being out of place? Or how about his courageous decision to ask his new wife to postpone their November honeymoon so he could play more football?
And believe it or not, he's not bad at doing that, either.
Given South Sydney's best talent scouts couldn't predict the force Lafai would become – Redfern Oval after all was his childhood playground – the 23-year-old is somewhat of a late-bloomer on the teenage-filled flanks of the NRL.
But the Bulldogs took a punt on the centre in 2011 and after three patient years, finally got their reward: a breakout season that culminated in a white-hot patch at the business end, including the year's best single-game tackle break count of 15, and then a grand final to top it off.
What made 2014 so special?
Lafai's 2014 season was a 21-game rugby league catalogue straight off the top shelf, a bulging highlight reel of dancing feet that not even the stellar talents of Justice Crew could replicate no matter how many half-time entertainment gigs they score off the NRL.
He entered the season having played 29 games over his first three years in the top grade – a solid return after a promising try on debut against the team he first represented as a junior, the Rabbitohs, back in 2011.
But his 2014 output was one right out of the box. His 11 try assists were the most in a club that boasted the NSW Origin halves, and the second most among NRL centres. The same goes for his 102 tackle breaks, leading the club in that category and bested only by Dane Gagai among three-quarters competition wide. Lafai also put up 11 tries, 12 line breaks, 21 offloads, 10 line break assists and ran for 107 metres per game.
By season's end he was arguably the biggest weapon in the Bulldogs' run to the finals and, when he returned from his wedding nuptials, Samoa's Four Nations campaign.
How can he get better in 2015?
Going on last season's numbers, there aren't too many glaring weaknesses in Lafai's game. Even his stats in all the little things that players love talking about – dummy half runs, one-on-one tackles, and penalties conceded – are of above-average quality.
If there's one number Bulldogs coach Des Hasler would certainly love to get down, it's Lafai's 20 errors. Cut them down to the low teens, where top centres Michael Jennings, Jamie Lyon and Dean Whare live, and you'd have arguably the most complete centre in the competition – that's how good he is.
Which new signing will have the greatest influence on him?
Considering the Bulldogs' right edge is likely to stay the same with the underrated Corey Thompson outside him and Josh Jackson and Trent Hodkinson teaming up on the inside, the combination will be a familiar one for the rapidly rising centre. But the addition of a more dynamic hooker in Michael Lichaa could create more space on the flanks, while the option of Brett Morris at fullback will quicken up their long shifts, equating to more space and faster service to a player who should get the ball quicker and often.