Tough love drives Dolphins' Isaako toward 33-year first

Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS

Dolphins winger Jamayne Isaako is living proof that being wanted, valued and challenged as a man and footballer can work wonders.

With one round of the regular season to go, the 27-year-old is on the cusp of being both the NRL's leading points scorer and try scorer for the season, a feat not achieved in first grade since Mal Meninga in 1990 for Canberra in their premiership-winning season.

After scoring two tries and kicking one goal in the 34-10 loss to North Queensland on Friday night, Isaako is the NRL's leading points scorer with 230 and tops the try scoring list with 23.

He could still be caught by Melbourne's Nick Meaney (204 points) as leading points scorer. South Sydney winger Alex Johnston and New Zealand Warriors flyer both have 21 tries.

Isaako said after the loss to the Cowboys that coach Wayne Bennett's faith in him was the driver behind his feats this year.

This time last season, he was playing Queensland Cup football in the second tier.

"The only reason I came to the Dolphins is because of Wayne. I play my best footy under him and he knows how to bring that out of me," Isaako said.

"I am just grateful that I am able to play some good footy this year off the back of a couple of tough years at the Broncos and a tough season last year (at the Gold Coast)."

Bennett coached Isaako in 2018 at Brisbane where he was Dally M rookie of the year and the NRL's leading point scorer.

"He shone when he first came to the Broncos in the early part of his career, but for a number of reasons he got lost," Bennett said.

"Probably coaches didn't have the confidence in him that they should have but I knew what he brought and he was one of the first players that we signed. He was playing for Tweed Heads last year at this time and nobody wanted him.

"I don't know if there has been many better players in the competition than him. It's a real credit to him. We've seen the best of him and there's more to come. He's a wonderful winger and a great finisher."

Isaako said Bennett had also given him tough love.

"The way I am playing this year is a credit to him. He rode me pretty hard in the off-season and made sure I earned a spot in this team come round one," Isaako said.

"I was on the cusp of not even starting the season. I took that really personal and worked my backside off the last couple of weeks of pre-season to try and solidify a spot in the team. I was lucky enough to play round one team I have played every game since."

Meninga's feat in 1990, when he scored 185 points and 15 tries, resonates with Isaako.

The rugby league legend was the Titans high performance senior advisor when Isaako joined the club

"Mal was one of the reasons I went to the Titans last year," Isaako said.

"I watched Mal back in the day and the way he held himself and played is the way a lot of players try and aspire to be like".