Wests Tigers rookie Stefano Utoikamanu is fast-emerging as a forward leader not just for the future but the here and now, especially after sitting Viliame Kikau on his backside.
Utoikamanu has been one of the more consistent bright spots in another disappointing Tigers campaign and stood tall once more in a 30-16 loss to premiership heavyweights Penrith on Sunday.
Coming to the close of his first full NRL season, Utoikamanu started with a not-so rare try against the Panthers, bagging his fifth four-pointer of the year by backing up a break from hooker Jacob Liddle.
Utoikamanu was at the forefront of a spirited Tigers start in which he held his own against Penrith's gun big men James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo, Moses Leota and Kikau.
The 21-year-old made a memorable acquaintance with Kikau in the form of a thundering hit on the Fijian, though the Panthers back-rower laughed last with a try and compelling display in Penrith's win.
Big man in open space alert!
Still, Utoikamanu finished with 127 run metres and 33 tackles in the middle, delivering a little bit more on the potential NSW coach Brad Fittler spoke of when he called him into Origin camp earlier in the year.
"I thought Stefano in the middle there stood up for us really well," coach Michael Maguire said.
"He's only young and when you're in the middle of the park it's a fair workload.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Wests Tigers
"But he's matched it with a lot of the players he's played against. He took them on today.
"It's about getting a few others with him and we've got a number of guys there that will come into the [NRL] group over a period of time that will add to what we're doing."
The Tigers were left ruing a 15-minute stretch saddling halftime in which a 6-6 deadlock ballooned to a 24-6 deficit at Redcliffe's Moreton Daily Stadium.
A late knee injury to back-rower Alex Seyfarth – in his first game back from damaging his MCL in the same knee – appeared to add salt to the wounds, though Maguire believes he has just twinged the ligament rather than re-injured it.
Otherwise it was similar story to what the Tigers have known all year, one which continues the longest current finals drought in the NRL.
"To see the boys fight and compete is something we need to make sure we take forward," Maguire said.
"You play like that throughout a season and play consistent footy like that you're going to find yourself with a lot more wins.
The Wests Tigers keep the ball alive for Maumalo to score
"It's an up and down ride but we've had plenty of times where I've sat in this press conference talking about patches of games where we hurt ourselves.
"There's probably another one there tonight. For a period of time there we didn't go with them."