WHEN Dion Belford-Laulu arrived on the Border in 2009 to play with his good mate Tommy Gemmell, the tough centre thought he would stay one or two years tops.
Five years later, the Kiwi has no plans to leave Greenfield Park.
Belford-Laulu is in career-best form for Albury Thunder and chasing back-to-back Group 9 premierships against Gundagai at Wagga’s Equex Centre on Sunday.
He has played in the centres, wing, full-back and five-eighth under coach Josh Cale and is set to continue his rivalry with Tigers’ danger man Damian Willis in the grand final.
“I didn’t think I would stay this long,” Belford-Laulu said.
“I coached Merimbula for a year before I arrived here and wasn’t sure how it would go.
“I just like the people, they are good to get along with.
“We have a similar team each year, maybe one or two changes, but we stick together and I’m not too fussed about going anywhere else.”
Belford-Laulu and Cale arrived in Albury at the same time and, after some initial finals disappointments, are now reaping the rewards of their persistence.
But the rugby union convert remains wary of Gundagai as it attempts to smash a 30-year grand final hoodoo.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Belford-Laulu said.
“We have only had two games in a month so I can’t wait.
“I think the rest has been really good.
“My body feels good even though we have been having some harder sessions.”
Belford-Laulu, 29, expects to lock horns with Willis, who was a match-winner in last weekend’s thrilling preliminary final victory against Southcity.
They have been regular sparring partners in recent seasons with both shaping as potential game-breakers.
“I always seem to mark Willis,” he said.
“I respect him and he respects me.
“It will be hard for both of us.
“Gundagai had a good game last week.”
With Albury being widely recognised as having the premier forwards in Group 9, Belford-Laulu said he hoped to cash in on the work done by Mitch Davis, Lou Goodwin, Andrew Cowhan and Jake Grace.
“Our forwards are one of the main reasons we are in the grand final,” he said.
“They are big boys and hard to stop.”