12 Nov 2022
Lafai's fairytale from construction site to Samoa semi-finalist
Salford centre was close to hanging up his boots before receiving Super League lifeline
By Josh Graham
Samoa centre Tim Lafai can scarcely believe his own fairytale journey from labourer and NRL reject to Rugby League World Cup semi-finalist in the space of a year.
The 31-year-old spent 2021 on construction sites to provide for his four children after being let go by the Canterbury Bulldogs and thought his footy career was over before Salford Red Devils handed him a Super League lifeline.
Lafai arrived on these shores in January and has not looked back since, excelling enough on Salford’s left edge to make the Super League dream team.
That was still not enough to force his way into Matt Parish’s initial World Cup plans but after answering an injury SOS following Samoa’s 60-6 demolition by the hosts in the opening game, Lafai is now a key cog in the side seeking revenge in their first ever semi-final.
He said: “I definitely didn’t think I would be here, I was home enjoying my break but luckily enough I’m here now and it’s a huge honour.
“It’s a crazy journey after having a year off. I was without a contract so I had to work like every other father would trying to provide for his family.
“I was grateful to take the opportunity over here and get a second chance. It was a lifeline that was thrown at me. I never considered coming overseas, it never crossed my mind.
“But after having a year off, I found that I missed the game a lot and found the passion and love for it again coming over here to enjoy my game.”
Lafai does not have any of the battle scars from that humbling Round 1 defeat at St James’ Park but he insists that result is far from the minds of his teammates as they bid to spoil the party at the Emirates.
He added: “It’s done and dusted the first game, so we’ve got to focus now as finals footy is a different kind of footy.
“The boys have seen how well the English team have been doing, so we’ve worked hard at training to get the little things right to turn up with our A game.”
Samoa toppled Tonga 20-18 in a thrilling quarter-final to make history by reaching the last four and coach Parish has lauded Lafai’s impact, suggesting he is in career-best form.
But Lafai knows the whole side will have to be on top of their game to contain his clubmate Kallum Watkins, who also lines up in the centre for Shaun Wane’s side, while he is relishing the chance to take on familiar foes with fellow Salford stars Marc Sneyd and Andy Ackers also part of the wider England squad.
He said: “It’s always special to come up your teammates and they are great athletes, Kal, Ackers and Sneydy.
“Kal is definitely a player we need to watch out for. He’s been great and one of their best backs, so we’ve definitely got to do a job on him.
“It’s going to be a good battle all round against the whole team, we’ve got to work hard. I’ve got to make sure I bring my best game for the team and whatever comes with it is great.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets