Tim Lafai enjoyed a career year in 2017 but despite racking up plenty of attacking numbers, he realisess he needs to use better judgement to avoid putting the St George Illawarra Dragons in a tricky predicament.
Last season, Lafai racked up 64 offloads – second-most in the NRL after Manly’s Martin Taupau (71) and his 18 line break assists were fourth among all NRL players and the most at the Dragons. His 11 try assists were second-best of any player who played outside the key playmaking positions behind just Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs centre Brenko Lee (12).
However, his 32 errors were sixth-worst NRL-wide and the most at the Dragons and Lafai knows there is a time and a place for generating second-phase play.
“It’s something that just kind of comes [naturally] but it’s also something I need to work on too,” Lafai told NRL.com.
“I need to control it because it can go bad or good. This season it’s about learning when to do it and controlling it. When you get tackled and you feel the ball free it just comes to your mind so it’s something you’ve got to practise too.”
A pushed offload inside the attacking 40 when there’s a chance of pressing for points is one thing but doing it while coming out of territory from inside the team’s own half is a high-risk strategy; while a line break created can swing the momentum of the match, an error places the team under immediate pressure to defend its line.
“[Offloading inside our half] is something we’ve spoken about. I need to be cautious and pick and choose when to do it when the timing’s right. That’s something I’ve been working on this off-season and hopefully going into the games it will pay off,” Lafai said.
It’s not a case of Paul McGregor reading the riot act, though – the coach wants his players to back themselves.
“Mary is really supportive, he’s all for it but when the time is right,” Lafai said.
“He spoke to me and we agreed I need to learn control and be consistent with it and have a ‘run-first’ mentality then if it comes, throw it.”
NRL.com Stats figures show Lafai’s numbers exploded last season compared to previous years. In terms of regular-season games, Lafai played 18 times for the club in 2016 and the same number the previous year at Canterbury.
Those 36 matches netted a total of just six line break assists and 43 offloads combined, well under his standalone 2017 tallies.
Lafai admitted it took him a little while to hit his straps at the Dragons but that the change away from Belmore after five seasons in blue and white had given him a new lease on life.
“I guess change is always good. It doesn’t happen straight away. It came good the second year and I think it matured me in a way too, going from what I was so used to do something different, it builds your character,” he said.
“We went back to the drawing board with Mary and the coaches, sat down and looked at stuff that we can work on in the pre-season and it showed in the team, it was awesome with Gareth [Widdop] and the boys, it helped a lot forming those combinations.
“I’ve got to be more consistent and play every game this year for the Dragons. That’s my main focus is to stay consistent and stay in the top squad through to the finals.”