The man who kept Josh Morris out of first grade has emerged as a contender to replace him in the NSW side for Origin II.
Tim Lafai made such an impression in his first-grade debut in 2011 that he kept Morris out of the Canterbury line-up for a short period. In that same year, he was close to making the New Zealand side but has subsequently pledged his allegiance to Australia after representing Samoa in the World Cup.
Now, with Blues coach Laurie Daley searching for replacements for the injured Morris twins, Lafai could enhance his chances with a strong performance when he marks up on Manly centre Jamie Lyon on Friday. The 23-year-old will switch to left centre for the Brookvale Oval clash but is equally experienced on the right, where the Blues have a void to fill. Parramatta's Will Hopoate was the early frontrunner for the gig before handing in his worst performance against Penrith since returning from his Mormon mission.
Lafai lived in New Zealand as a child and would be a strong chance of representing the Kiwis, but nominated Australia as his country of election in his most recent playing contract.
"I call myself an Australian, I've been living here most of my life," Lafai said.
"Growing up watching Origin, it's always been a dream of mine [to play]. Seeing how physical it is, it's the ultimate challenge in anyone's footy career. That made it easy, I call Australia home."
Daley has stressed the importance of club combinations in his selection policy, which could work in Lafai's favour. Canterbury already provide Trent Hodkinson, Josh Reynolds and Tony Williams to the team. The injured Morris is also from the Bulldogs.
"Hopefully I can play alongside them for NSW one day," Lafai said.
"I'm proud for all those boys who got the call-up. They've done awesome for the team and deserved their spots, it's been inspiring watching them fulfilling their dreams of playing Origin for their state.
"Having the boys around, with the combinations we have, would help if I got picked."
If Billy Slater is fit for the Maroons, Morris' replacement would have the daunting prospect of marking up on South Sydney star Greg Inglis. Lafai, a noted defender, said he would relish the challenge but was more concerned about first shutting down Sea Eagles captain Lyon.
"I've marked on big GI before in my first year [in the NRL], so I've had a bit of experience," he said.
"It would be awesome but I've got to go out on Friday and do the best for the Bulldogs, play my normal game. That's my priority. It will be a big challenge at Brookvale against Manly and Jamie Lyon. He's a gun centre ... facing him is a good opportunity and hopefully I do enough for selectors."