Rising stars of the NRL, Canterbury’s Tim Lafai and Newcastle’s Joey Leilua will go head to head this Saturday night.
The two young Samoan centres grew up together in Campbeltown in Sydney’s West before moving to their respective clubs at the time. Both born in the year of 1991, Leilua and Lafai are both still only 22 years old and have a great deal to offer the NRL.
Tim Lafai was re-signed by Canterbury for a further 3 years early this season and has cemented his first grade spot after returning from a hand injury he suffered in the pre-season.
Lafai has scored 13 tries in 34 games for the Bulldogs since he debuted in Round 2, 2011. Battling for positions against Internationals Josh Morris and Krisnan Inu, Lafai has taken his first grade opportunity with two hands and even represented Samoa in last year’s World Cup, playing 3 Tests.
Against South Sydney last Friday, the Samoan born Lafai had a monstrous game. He made 13 runs for 173m, 1 try-assist, 2 line-breaks and 1 offload over 80 minutes.
Joey Leilua debuted for the Sydney Roosters in Round 12, 2010. He spent three seasons at the Chooks, even playing a Grand Final in his debut year against the Dragons. After a controversial exit from Bondi, Leilua linked up with master coach Wayne Bennett and has been a revelation for Newcastle.
Leilua has scored 36 tries from his 85 career first grade games, including 16 four pointers in 26 games for the Knights at a strike rate of 0.62.
A strong ball runner, Leilua has an 186cm/111 kg frame that’s built for rugby league. He ranks 4th for tackle-breaks this season with 37 from 7 games, only behind Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis and Josh Mansour. Although he’s often prone to making mistakes, having the 2nd most handling errors in the NRL with 7.
Joining Lafai at the Rugby League World Cup last year, Leilua also represented Samoa, playing 4 Tests. Having already played City V Country in 2012 (City), Joey will push incumbent centres Josh Morris and Michael Jennings for a NSW spot this year.