For the past 6 months, Tim Lafai has had to sit. Heâ€™s had to wait and watch as his team-mates trained full time under new coach Des Hasler and as they returned to Belmore Sports Ground for the first time in a long time.
But now comes his chance. He has put in the hard yards after a devastating shoulder injury and is ready to explode onto the NRL scene when he finally gets his chance.
â€œI dislocated my shoulder and ended up being told that I had to have a full reconstruction,â€ he told BlueNWhite.com.au
â€œIt was a blow but I had to keep my head up. At the moment Iâ€™m just keen to play. Big time.
â€œI just want to play, itâ€™s eating at me a bit and I canâ€™t wait.â€
Lafai says he isnâ€™t disappointed in being named in NSW Cup below Jonathan Wright in first grade by coach Des Hasler. People might think he isnâ€™t ready to make the switch from the left to the right side of the field, or that he isnâ€™t fully fit. But that isnâ€™t the case.
â€œIâ€™m 100% ready to go and I have no issue playing on the right. I played on the right side in Toyota Cup towards the end of 2011, but the reason Iâ€™ll start in NSW Cup is because Dessy wantâ€™s me to get some confidence back in my shoulder before he puts me into the top grade.
â€œIâ€™ve been given the all clear from the physio and doctors and I canâ€™t say how excited and pumped I am to play.â€
Itâ€™s been a long off-season for Lafai not just because of his shoulder injury, but because of the large personnel changes at the club.
â€œItâ€™s been very intense at training but weâ€™ve all been working really hard to get the results we need to get.
â€œDes has been so good and heâ€™s shown each and every one of us what weâ€™re capable of and heâ€™s helped us with everything.
â€œPersonally heâ€™s helped me a lot with my defence and also helping me become more confident and aggressive with the ball in hand.â€
It looks like Haslers work has paid off with the lean and powerful looking frame of Lafai an imposing sight for any opposition player. At 6 foot 2 and just under 100kg, he is a new-age centre and the best option to take over from Jamal Idris.
â€œI donâ€™t feel any pressure (taking over from Idris).â€ He says.
â€œIâ€™m a different type of player to Jamal but Iâ€™m also confident and Iâ€™m going to go in and back my own ability.”
“I know that if I do that, it will get me to where I need to be in the world of rugby league.â€
Back onto the topic of left and right side centre, Lafai claims he has been training at right centre all pre-season and confidence is high, both in himself and the team.
â€œIâ€™ve trained really hard on the right hand side all pre-season and havenâ€™t switched once. The feeling around the club is great and it should be a really good season.â€
Both the club and fans are hoping that things will click, with Josh Reynolds expected to play five-eighth ahead of Kris Keating alongside Trent Hodkinson, an untested but potentially deadly combination.
Greg Eastwood has been hampered with injury andÂ personal problems in pastÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â seasons, but is looking fitÂ and raring to go. FrankÂ Pritchard, his New ZealandÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â partner-in-crime is expected to play his best football under Hasler while Bryson Goodwin is going to be given another chance to shine after a poor 2011 season.
What does this all add up to? A potential top 4 finish, which isnâ€™t far fetched by any stretch of the imagination, despite what the pro tipsters will tell you.
â€œWe know that results arenâ€™t going to just come to us. We have a great squad. Itâ€™s up to us as the players to perform and we know if we do we will win.â€ Lafai said.
Halves coach Brett Kimmorley has been extremely impressed with Lafaiâ€™s attitude, despite him missing a lot of on-field training sessions due to his injury.
â€œHeâ€™s a wonderful kid,â€ Kimmorley said. â€œHeâ€™s had to do lots of indoor fitness work and cardio and heâ€™s only really been back to full time training for a few weeks, but you can tell he is committed.
â€œWe have some great players in first grade and if he is to break in when he gets his match fitness back then itâ€™s going to be entirely up to him and how he performs. If he gets his chance, he needs to take it.
â€œHe was very impressive in the short time he got to play against the Raiders (in the clubs last trial match) but he definitely needs to get that confidence back in his shoulder and once he does, he will be sweet.â€
The Bulldogs are a club all about passion, commitment and dedication. Something Tim Lafai has lots of.