Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary made a statement picking a pair of journeymen ahead of local star David Nofoaluma in the round one clash against the Sydney Roosters, but Corey Thompson's stunning match-winning try justified his coach's faith – and drew some heavy praise.
''I think he epitomises what we're trying to build here,'' Cleary said of the 27-year-old former Bulldog, given a chance by Cleary to return from a two-year stint with the Widnes Vikings.
After blitzing the trials, Thompson earned a spot against the Roosters and repaid Cleary with four busts, three offloads, 110 metres from 13 carries and a spectacular finish to help his team jag an unexpected upset win.
''The way he played today is basically the way he started training back in November. He's done well in the trial games,'' Cleary continued.
While Thompson was caught out of position for a Cooper Cronk 40/20 kick he repaid the debt at the end of the game, according to the coach.
''He was not a huge signing, with all respect to Corey, but we thought he was a great signing. I've always admired him as a player. He's turned up, earned his spot and played well again.''
Speaking after the win, Thompson said it was important to back up his trial form having been given a chance back in the NRL.
''In the back of my mind I knew it was just trials and everyone was just getting the cobwebs out,'' he said.
''I was a bit nervous coming back in today but once kick off came I knew I'd trained all pre-season for this and to trust what I've learned.''
Thompson agreed there was extra pressure given Nofoaluma's non-selection.
''I went to England purely to get regular games in first grade and Ivan gave me a shot to come back,'' Thompson said.
''I just wanted to put in during pre-season. When I wasn't feeling well or wanted to sleep in or not show up, I forced myself to go in every day. I thought I had a great pre-season and a couple of trials and I was lucky enough Ivan named me in round one.
''All through pre-season everyone knew they were battling for positions all over the park, centre, wing, fullback, five-eighth. [Cleary] put his faith in me this afternoon and I tried to repay him.
''Nof's the face of the Wests Tigers, he's a local, he's been a great player throughout the years. We're great mates, it's all positive, he wished me luck before the game and gave me a big hug after. We're always pushing each other every week. Everyone's got to play good each week or someone will just take their spot.''
The team's job wasn't finished when Thompson burned opposite Daniel Tupou to score in the corner to draw level at 8-all, with fullback Tui Lolohea icing the tough sideline conversion.
''It was great, he's a great kicker,'' Thompson laughed.
''I was on the corner saying 'please no extra time!' It was a tough game. I knew he was going to kick it.''