Barnstorming Canterbury centre Tim Lafai was undoubtedly one of the breakout stars of 2014, the 23-year-old becoming established as one of the NRL’s most damaging three-quarters.
Lafai debuted in 2011 and cemented a regular first grade spot ahead of the likes of Krisnan Inu two years later, but 2014 was his first full season in the top flight, playing 25 games as the Bulldogs made an unlikely Grand Final charge.
The imposing 101kg unit scored 14 tries (including hat-tricks against St George Illawarra and in the qualifying final upset of Melbourne), made 12 line breaks, averaged 96 metres and recorded 10 try assists, 25 offloads and a team-high 95 tackle breaks in a stellar campaign.
Lafai is eligible for Samoa, his country of birth that he represented at the 2013 World Cup, as well as New Zealand and Australia. He put his hand up for the Kangaroos, but was desperately unlucky to miss out on the Four Nations squad – Michael Jennings and debutant Dylan Walker were the only specialist centres picked, while a stack of uncapped wingers got the nod.
He instead featured in Toa Samoa’s stirring campaign, but shapes as a genuine contender for the NSW Origin side in 2015, although competition is fierce with Jennings, Walker, Jack Wighton, Jamal Idris, Will Hopoate, veteran club-mate Josh Morris and Samoa teammate Joey Leilua all vying for two spots.
If size, power and game-breaking ability are pre-requisites for selection, however, the skilful Lafai will be right in the representative mix.