Canberra Raiders centre Joey Leilua is out to prove doubters he was worthy of being crowned last year's Dally M Centre of the Year for the second time in three seasons.

Despite a career-high 14 tries in 2018, Leilua's numbers were down in all other areas of his game compared to previous years, yet he still managed to poll 11 votes and win the award over the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Esan Marsters, Jesse Ramien and Waqa Blake.

Under the new awards system, the player that polls the most votes in each position becomes the automatic winner of the positional award. It's a simple system but the result in Leilua's case left the wider rugby league public shocked by the outcome.

"I've been copping that from the boys all summer, asking me who I paid and that," Leilua told NRL.com.

"I just reply to them that everyone deserved it last year but this year I want to make sure I make a statement that I want to be the best I can be.

"I can't control what other people think or even being given an award. I was shocked just as much as everyone but I also see myself as a player that should be trying to challenge for those types of awards by playing well."

Raiders centre Joey Leilua.
Raiders centre Joey Leilua. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

The 2019 pre-season was vastly different to last year's pre-season when the 27-year-old made headlines for turning up to training reportedly overweight following the Rugby League World Cup in 2017.

Leilua said having most players available for a full pre-season with the exception of Canberra's English internationals, who joined pre-season training in January, had made a difference to the side overall with a defence-oriented regime on the agenda.

"We want to make a statement this year that we're not just a side that likes to attack but pride ourselves on defence," Leilua said.

"We've hardly even looked at our attack. Every session is getting our shoulders bashed because we're hitting each other hard.

"Our attack has never really been an issue. If there's an opportunity we take it, but if it's a chance in our hand we probably will hold the ball this time around.

"For my game it's about trying to hold that ball when it's needed. I try to force it sometimes but when we need points I am given a bit more freedom there too."

Leilua missed both the club's trial against Canterbury with a minor hamstring strain but is in no doubt for the season opener against the Gold Coast on Sunday.

"I'm all fine now and ready to go," he said. 

"It was good to get a full pre-season under my belt apart from the niggling injury. I would've liked a few minutes in the trial but am feeling fit enough to go without."