It was a strong first season in Wests Tigers colours for prop forward Russell Packer, who showed why Coach Ivan Cleary was so keen to sign the Kiwi international.
Arriving with a number of seasons in the NRL behind him, Packer's knowledge and experience soon came to the fore at Wests Tigers as he helped set the tempo in a number of stirring upset wins.
Many were perhaps surprised when the new recruit was named as a co-captain of the side despite having never played in Wests Tigers colours, but it was soon easy to see why the 28-year-old was put in the position he was with his teammates full of respect and confidence in his abilities as a leader.
Packer set the line speed for the team's defence and helped the young side come together in the early rounds — securing several stunning upsets over the eventual 2018 Grand Finalists.
He produced a career-high 57 tackles in the heartbreaking Round 3 loss to Brisbane, before picking up a knee injury in the dying moments of a second win over Melbourne in Round 5. Despite injuring his MCL, Packer somehow stayed on the field with no substitutes to help Wests Tigers hold on for a thrilling win — such was his determination and desire to ensure he didn't let his teammates down on the day.
Missing four weeks, Wests Tigers would win just one game without Packer in the lineup, before his return to the side saw them bounce back to the winners circle with a 20-12 win over North Queensland.
Interestingly, Packer finished the year with a 57.89% winning rate from his 19 matches — the highest winning rate of any Wests Tigers player who played more than half the season. Jacob Liddle (13 matches) had the best win-rate with 61.54% while Benji Marshall (57.14% in 21 matches) was close behind Packer.
WHAT STOOD OUT IN 2018
Wests Tigers' dip in form after Round 5 through to Round 10 occurring at the same time that Packer missed a month of football with injury is surely not a coincidence — such is his importance to the side. The Kiwi international (who has since retired from representative football) was a leader in every sense of the word for his side, and did so many of the little things that went unnoticed by all. Few players could have come in to a new club littered by new players and find their feet in a leadership role so quickly, but Packer did just that. With that season behind him, he'll no doubt be looking for even bigger and better things in 2019.
WHAT'S TO COME IN 2019
With the departure of Sauaso Sue and Tim Grant, it's possible that Russell Packer's minutes could go up in the front row with just Ben Matulino, Alex Twal and Matt Eisenhuth available as the other established front rowers in the squad. Packer played 48 minutes or more on five occasions during the year (with a season-high 71 minutes against the Brisbane Broncos in Round 3), and it'll be interesting to see whether that changes at all in the year to come or stays roughly the same with changes to the club's forward pack.
MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Retired from international football (7 Tests for New Zealand)
Wests Tigers Debut — Round 1 vs. Sydney Roosters, ANZ Stadium (10/03/18)
Wests Tigers co-captain