Canterbury coach Dean Pay heaped praise on English debutant Luke Thompson after the former St Helens player produced a powerful 60-minute effort on his NRL bow on Saturday.
Wearing the number 13 jersey and playing through the middle of the field, Thompson tallied nine runs for 86 metres plus 36 tackles in the Bulldogs’ 26-8 loss to the Brisbane Broncos.
Last year’s Harry Sunderland Trophy winner made a strong charge in the Dogs’ first attacking set, knocking Broncos hooker Issac Luke on his backside, before then flattening Brisbane enforcer Payne Haas in the sixth minute.
The highlight, though, was Thompson’s running battle with Broncos big man Tevita Pangai Junior, with the England international being placed on report for a shoulder charge on the Tongan tearaway in the 37th minute, although Thompson received no further sanction from the match-review committee.
That fiery battle revived memories of the other British Bulldog to make the move from Merseyside to Belmore, James Graham, who played his last NRL game only weeks before Thompson pulled on the blue-and-white jumper for the first time.
And coach Pay, who was a Test prop himself during his playing days in the 1990s, loved what he saw from his new recruit.
“I thought he was terrific,” Pay said.
“I thought he was really good, Luke. You can see what a player he’s going to be once he gets a few games under his belt.
“He bounced into it off not a lot of training and he did a wonderful job for us tonight. I thought he was a real shining light.”
English forwards like the Burgess brothers, James Graham, John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead have lit up the NRL in recent seasons with their blend of skill and physicality.
And Pay expects Thompson, who is contracted to Canterbury until the end of 2023, to add his name to that list.
“He’s a real tenacious, hard-working tough kid,” Pay said.
“We’ve had some wonderful players come out and play over here, especially in recent times, and there’s no reason why he can’t be another one of those top-line British players that come out here.
“Their forwards do really well over here. They’re very tough and they take everyone on and I can’t see him being anything different.”
Referee Chris Sutton placed Thompson on report for that first-half shoulder charge on Pangai, but Pay doesn’t think his debutant has much to worry about.
“I’ll have to have a look,” Pay said of the tackle.
“It didn’t do a lot of damage. There were a couple of others out there that they missed, so who knows.”
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold relished the duel between Thompson and Pangai, who was one of Brisbane’s best in their drought-breaking win.
“I set him a bit of a challenge, playing him through the middle this week,” Seibold said.
“Him and Luke Thompson had a really good contest out there, which was pleasing.
“That’s what we want to see in our game. We want to see a battle like that. I really enjoyed watching it, and I’m sure the crowd watching at home would have enjoyed that battle as well.”
Canterbury captain Josh Jackson made a heartfelt speech before handing Thompson his debut jersey pre-game, thanking the Brit for joining the battling Bulldogs earlier than planned amid the coronavirus upheaval.
Thompson spent two weeks isolated in a Melbourne hotel room to meet the Australian government’s quarantine regulations for international arrivals before joining the Dogs’ squad a fortnight ago.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for you, mate, and the decision that you’ve made to come over here,” Jackson said.
“You’ve obviously had to make a lot of sacrifices. To move away from your family, I’m sure, is a really tough decision for you.
“But we’re all glad that you made the decision to come here. We’re really lucky to have you. Just seeing the impact that you’ve had on the group in the last couple of weeks has been tremendous.”
And Thompson was just as sincere in his message to his new NRL team-mates.
“It’s going to mean a lot to me tonight, boys, putting this jersey on,” Thompson said.
“I’ve come to the other side of the world to be here and I’m really looking forward to being out there with you tonight.”