After starting the year in reserve grade, David Nofoaluma's growth throughout 2018 again proved why the winger is such an important part of Wests Tigers.
His omission from the NRL team in Round 1 certainly sparked plenty of interest and debate, but having witnessed how the rest of the season played out, it's hard to argue that it wasn't best for all involved.
After a dominant performance in Intrust Super Premiership in Round 1, Nofoaluma returned to the team the following week due to an injury to Tuimoala Lolohea and quickly picked up where he left off in 2017 — grinding out 175 metres in the team's first win over the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park since 2012.
He picked up points in the 3-2-1 voting on that night, and continued to impress again throughout the rest of the year. Nofoaluma finished fourth in the club's Player of the Year voting (behind Luke Brooks, Corey Thompson and Chris Lawrence) in another underrated but deceptively strong season.
Reaching the 100-game milestone in 2018, Nofoaluma has quietly built an impressive strike rate of 49 tries in 105 games and is just three tries away from being the club's all-time highest scoring winger.
Still only 24 years of age, the Campbelltown flyer's progress both on and off the field under Coach Ivan Cleary will have plenty of fans excited for what's to come on the right wing — particularly with the emergence of Esan Marsters as his long-term centre partner and the inclusion of Moses Mbye at fullback.
WHAT STOOD OUT IN 2018
As has become the norm with Nofoaluma over the past few seasons, the winger's dominant carries with the ball (particularly coming out of his own end) again provided to be crucial for Wests Tigers. Nofoaluma averaged over 150 running metres per game and just once finished with fewer than 100 metres — a game he went off injured in in the 32nd minute having already amassed 75 metres — while also chalking up six appearances with 175 metres or more. The modern winger is incredibly involved in starting attacking sets, and Nofoaluma continues to be one of the best in regards to this. Only Nene Macdonald, Blake Ferguson and Ken Maumalo averaged more post contact metres amongst wingers than the Wests Tigers man in 2018.
WHAT'S TO COME IN 2019
With the arrival of Moses Mbye midway through the year, Nofoaluma's output on the right edge certainly picked up, and a full preseason together should see the fullback and winger combine on a more frequent basis in 2019. Mbye looked more-than-comfortable setting up his outside backs on the right, with Nofoaluma ending the year with tries or linebreaks in six of his last eight games, and that combination is again one to watch in 2019. Nofoaluma will only be helped too by the breakout season of Marsters, who will be better again next year after adjusting to his first full year in the NRL. Wests Tigers' left edge was easily their better side in 2018 with Corey Thompson, Kevin Naiqama and Chris Lawrence chalking up 22 tries between them; perhaps we'll see the right side be more dominant in 2019 with Josh Reynolds back on deck.
MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
100 NRL Games — Wests Tigers vs. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Round 21)
100 Wests Tigers Games — Wests Tigers vs. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Round 21)
Finished fourth in Wests Tigers 2018 Kelly-Barnes Award voting