Unheralded Wests Tigers recruit Corey Thompson is firming as the successor to James Tedesco's No.1 jumper when the NSW Origin star squares off with his junior club in a round one grudge match.
While Tedesco carved up on debut for the Roosters in their trial win over Manly, Thompson was once again among the Tigers best in a 24-12 loss to Cronulla Sharks at Tedesco's old Campbelltown stomping ground.
The ex-Bulldogs flyer turned heads during a two-year Super League stint where he scored almost a try a game, and now Thompson is well on his way to forcing Tui Lolohea to either the wing or reserve grade in a fortnight's time.
Thompson proved equal parts brave and brilliant after being preferred at fullback over Lolohea against the Sharks, putting his body on the line to snuff out multiple Cronulla raids and coming up with a scintillating 40-metre return from his own in-goal late in the match.
It's believed Lolohea's fitness has been a cause for concern in Tiger Town, while Ivan Cleary declared it would be "hard not to" find a spot for Thompson in his backline for the mouthwatering season opener against Tedesco and the Roosters.
"Corey's been a standout right throughout the pre-season," Cleary said.
"I couldn't have asked for more from him really. He was in everything tonight.
"There was a play in the first half where Luke Lewis was destined to score from a charge down and Corey somehow got back there to save it — that epitomises what he is about."
Lolohea meanwhile played a full 80 minutes in the curtain raiser for Wests Magpies, producing a mixed bag performance in a 22-18 loss to Newtown Jets.
Cleary was coy on Lolohea's reserve grade showing and where the Tongan international stands with the NRL Telstra premiership just two weeks away from kicking off.
"It wasn’t so much about what Tui was going to do in that game," he said.
"He knows what he's got to do."
In Lolohea's favour is the fact he is one of few recognised goal kickers in the Tigers wider squad, and he nailed three conversions from as many attempts on Saturday.
Centre Taane Milne was successful with his one shot at goal in the top grade, while Esan Marsters missed the other.
Of Cleary's back five, only winger David Nofaluma and Fijian skipper Kevin Naiqama can consider themselves certainties for round one, though Thompson may well now count himself in the same boat.
Plenty for Wests Tigers to work on: Josh Reynolds