NRL hopes for Lofipo
FOUR YEARS ago he was a winger.
Now he has transformed himself into a match-winning prop to be reckoned with.
The reinvention of 22-year-old Ipswich front-rower Tyson Lofipo will be on show for Ipswich footy fans when the Jets take on the Penrith Panthers next Friday night at North Ipswich Reserve.
His development has been so impressive that Jets CEO Brad Wolens is adamant he can crack the NRL in the next 12 months.
Wolens has known Lofipo since the second day after he arrived in Australia from New Zealand as a 16 year old, so he has seen the progress of the aggressive forward at close quarters.
"I really think Tyson Lofipo is going to be the surprise packet for us this year," Wolens said.
"He had an exceptional season for us two years ago. Last year he had a fairly quiet year. He lost sight of the bunny a little bit and put on a bit of weight and lost a bit of condition. But he has worked exceptionally hard in the pre-season and the off-season and I think Tyson Lofipo will be a big bonus for us this year."
Lofipo doesn't realise how good he is.
"That is exactly the conversation that I had with him when he came in and signed a contract," Wolens said.
"Personally I believe that the kid has got the ability to go to the next level.
"He was one of those lads who came to Australia as a 16-year-old and had a season in the local comp. At 17 years old, he was thrown into the Jets' Queensland Cup team and the Titans picked him up the next year as an 18-year-old.
"Some players fall in the forgotten category. They have massive wraps on them as 17 and 18-year-olds. When they don't succeed straight away, they are thrown on the scrapheap. But he is a player that NRL clubs should be looking at this year now that he has got his head switched on.
"He's a very strong player. He has got great footwork for a front-rower and he has got a very good ball carry on him. When he is playing with confidence, he is an exceptional talent. Manly looked at him last year and I spoke with Penrith about having a look at him when they are up here too.
"I know him well. I was managing Struddies Sports Store when he came into the shop two days after he arrived in the country. He was looking for some footy shoes. I suggested he go to play with Brothers around the corner from where he lived and then I said he should play for Jets Colts the next year when he turned 17."
Ipswich club chairman Steve Johnson said Lofipo looked trim, taught and terrific at training and has an added maturity to his life.
"He's really matured with fatherhood which is good to see. He came back at the start of training with a little bit of weight on but he's worked hard to get that off and now he's in really good condition," Johnson said.
"He's graduated from a winger four seasons ago as an 18-year-old. Now he is a front-rower and they don't mature until they are 23 or 24.
"He's still probably got a couple of years in his learning curve. He was fortunate that he got a couple of years under Glenn Lazarus, so he learned from the best.
"Physically he has matured into a front-rower and he is making great inroads. Now he has got to mature mentally into that tough role."
Meanwhile, Wolens said the trial month of February would be vital for the Jets as a prelude to the Intrust Super Cup.
"The boys were a little bit disappointed at the end of last season. They thought they would go further than they did, so I think they are very keen to start off the season really well.
"They have primed themselves for a big start to the season."