There may have a lot of hype surrounding Stefano Utoikamanu before a ball was kicked in 2021, but that pressure didn't get to the young Wests Tigers prop as he delivered in an impressive rookie season.
Utoikamanu played 21 games across the season, scoring six tries and averaging close to 100 metres a game — but he also gave Wests Tigers Members and fans something special to be excited about in 2022.
Starting the year from the interchange bench, Utoikamanu was promoted to the starting side after a number of strong performances and the youngster got better as the season progressed.
Utoikamanu was rewarded with a spot in Brad Fittler's NSW Origin squad for Game Three, and although he wasn't named in the final line-up, being around the game's elite players was a valuable opportunity for the youngster.
“It was a cool experience. It was great to see how the boys prepare for training — especially the guys who are at the top level and are the best,” the prop said.
“It was pretty cool to train with those boys. They train at a different intensity — it’s amazing to see — everyone does that little bit extra.
“Everyone was heaps professional, but I thought it was great working with Dale Finucane — he trains the house down — it’s like he’s playing a game every time he trains. Looking at him train was pretty cool and then watching him go into a game was a good experience.”
On return to club football with Wests Tigers, Utoikamanu had a spectacular end to the season as he finished the final eight games as one of his side's best players.
Although he excelled, even Utoikamanu knows he has more to give and his 2021 output was a glimpse of what fans can expect in the coming years.
At the age of just 21, the booming prop has a big career ahead of him.
Appearances — 21
Tries — 6
Total running metres — 2050 (avg. 97)
Post contact metres — 971 (avg. 46.2)
Tackles made — 579 (avg. 27.6)
Tackle efficiency — 94.2%
Offloads — 18
Tackle breaks — 35
NRL Fantasy points — 912 (avg. 43.4)
Utoikamanu will never forget his first NRL try as he broke through Newcastle's defensive line in Wests Tigers' first win of 2021.
Utoikamanu showcases speed and strength to score maiden NRL try
WHAT WAS SAID
He's only young and when you're in the middle of the park it's a fair workload — but he's matched it with a lot of the players he's played against.Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire
I think being in the NSW squad has given me a lot of confidence coming back to club land … it motivates me to be better because I want to be back there. I would love to play in that arena next year.Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu
It's hard to pick Utoikamanu's best game of the season because he was so consistent towards the backend of the campaign — however we've gone with his Round 20 effort against the Warriors.
Although Wests Tigers weren't able to get the desired result, Utoikamanu busted his guts for his teammates as he recorded 166 metres (67 post contact) and 36 tackles in a 58 minute performance.
Family always comes first for Stefano!
After an impressive 2021 season, Utoikamanu will head into next year's campaign high on confidence.
His goal will be to lock down a starting position in the front row at Wests Tigers and to play consistent footy — with the ultimate goal of making his State of Origin debut, although he's prepared to wait for that one.
Wests Tigers Members and fans should be excited to see Utoikamanu go to a new level in 2022.