Tim Lafai with Dragons teammates in Round 1.

It's a statement often said in rugby league that a player's performance throughout the season is dependant on their pre-season preparation. Most players refer back to training in November through to February as a stepping stone for the year ahead.

‌After a disastrous 2016, St George Illawarra centre Tim Lafai was keen to make up for lost time and is starting to deliver on the form that saw the 25-year-old star in the Bulldogs' grand final charge in 2014.

With Des Hasler signing Will Hopoate for 2016 at Belmore, Lafai was forced to move on in late-December and endured a tough start to his Dragons career with injury and an off-field incident derailing his first season in the Red V.

"Things like that [season] really take a toll on a player's confidence but I'm glad the year's over and there was a lesson learnt," Lafai said.

"I thought I would take it upon myself to repay the boys and the staff after last season.

"I was keen to get into pre-season and really prove to the boys and the coaching staff that I was serious about this year and I wanted that spot. 

"My body is probably feeling the best it’s been and just doing a tough pre-season is really helping me out there on the field."

The Samoan international's combination with Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop has developed strongly in the opening seven rounds, while the forward pack has laid the right platform for Lafai to show what he can do with four tries already eclipsing last season's try-scoring tally despite playing 11 more games in another sign the side's attack had improved out of sight after much criticism. 

"The boys are really clicking… the middles are doing their part and the edges are finishing it off," he said.

"'Gaz' (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."

Dragons coach Paul McGregor put Lafai's form down to a taking on the pre-season in a different approach to usual.

"Tim probably had the biggest makeover of any player in the pre-season, he really changed the way he attacked it this year," McGregor said.

"We got him relatively late last season [in December], he spent some time in the pre-season at [the Bulldogs] and had a hamstring [injury] and then a quad [injury] so he never really got moving. 

"This year he did everything and he actually won our award at our [pre-season] camp.

"I'm just happy for Tim as a person because he genuinely cares about his footy team and he cares about his form. For him to go out there and play like that is certainly nice to see."

 


Off-contract at season's end, Lafai is keen to call Wollongong home beyond 2017 but knows from his time at the Bulldogs that anything is possible. 

"It would be nice [to stay] but whatever happens, happens. 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 them [as a club]," Lafai said.

"It hasn't crossed my mind at all… I’m just focussed on doing my job for the Dragons and for myself and family then the rest will follow."

The Dragons enjoy a nine-day turnaround – their longest break to date – before taking on the Sydney Roosters in the annual Anzac Day clash next Tuesday afternoon at Allianz Stadium.

Lafai was part of last year's 20-18 victory and admitted it was up there with the Bulldogs grand final and Samoan debut as his career highlight.

"It was probably the best game I've played in… the atmosphere is amazing, the Roosters are in good form we're two teams that are rivals," he said.

"We'll do our homework and prepare well for them."