Safe to say Corey Thompson's return to the NRL in 2018 was a success.
Having played previously for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs before shifting to Super League for the past few years, the 28-year-old's return to Australia was a bold move for a player largely viewed on the fringe of first-grade selection. However, that move would pay off in a big way under Coach Ivan Cleary in 2018, with Thompson finishing the season as one of Wests Tigers best and most valuable players.
The diminutive winger was a stunning selection in the Round 1 team to take on the Sydney Roosters — chosen over the more established winger in David Nofoaluma — but Thompson quickly repaid the faith with a gritty and determined performance that culminated in him scoring the match-winning try.
Shifting around between both wings and fullback, Thompson handled himself with aplomb and continued to be a key role in Wests Tigers attack. He racked up nine tries, nine linebreaks and 69 tackle breaks through the first 20 games of the year before suffering a serious ankle injury that would end his season.
Despite missing the last month-and-a-bit of football, Thompson still finished the year equal second in the club's Player of the Year voting and would have certainly come close to challenging Luke Brooks for the top prize had he not missed those rounds. He also finished high in the polling for the Players' Player Award (which was also won by Brooks), showing the respect his new teammates had for him throughout the year.
Thompson ended the season as the team's leading try-scorer with nine tries, and having re-signed with the club during the year, will certainly be an important part of Wests Tigers' attack in the years ahead.
Corey Thompson re-signs with Wests Tigers
WHAT STOOD OUT IN 2018
It's hard not to look at Thompson and think he's going to be outmuscled in the air or outplayed on the ground, but it simply wasn't the case this year. The 28-year-old's persistence and determination was greater than so many across the league, and it no doubt led to his success in establishing himself as part of Wests Tigers side every week. "He epitomises what we're on about," said Coach Ivan Cleary of Thompson during the year, and it was this attitude that made him a fan favourite throughout the year. Nine tries and nine linebreaks certainly wasn't too shabby either given how much he moved around the backline.
WHAT'S TO COME IN 2019
While he played fullback, left wing and right wing in 2018, it's hard to see Thompson having to move around as much in 2019 following the arrival of Moses Mbye and the return to form of David Nofoaluma. That consistency can only be a good thing for Thompson, who will certainly have his eyes on securing the left wing spot in Round 1 next year. The combination of him, Mahe Fonua, Chris Lawrence and Luke Brooks on that edge only had a few chances together throughout the year just finished, but they showed plenty of promise in doing so and will no doubt be looking to pick up where they left off in 2018.
MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Wests Tigers Debut — Round 1 vs. Sydney Roosters (ANZ Stadium, 03/10/18)
50 NRL Games — Round 15 vs. Canberra Raiders (Campbelltown Sports Stadium, 17/06/18)
Nominated for Wests Tigers NRL Player of the Year (Kelly-Barnes) Award
Nominated for Wests Tigers NRL Players' Player Award
Re-signed with Wests Tigers until the end of 2019