He was second only to Gareth Widdop in the big-name stakes for the Dragons’ recruitment drive, but you won’t hear Joel Thompson complaining about his low-key St George Illawarra introduction off the bench.
Used as an interchange to accommodate skipper Ben Creagh’s return to the back row, Thompson has played second fiddle to Widdop after the former Melbourne star’s sizzling start to life in Wollongong.
Yet the 25-year-old former NSW Country representative is just happy to play his part in St George Illawarra’s unbeaten start to the year.
‘‘People have been asking me, ‘Are you upset being on the bench?’ But it doesn’t really bother me,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘I play my part in the team.
‘‘I started most of my games in the second row at Canberra, but the second-rowers we’ve got here are of a very high quality.
‘‘I know I just have to bide my time, train hard and play well. I’ve still been getting a fair few minutes and even if I was starting I dare say I wouldn’t be playing 80 [minutes].’’
Thompson spent most of the preseason with a stranglehold on a starting second row spot as Creagh’s permanent shift to the front row looked imminent.
But the skipper has again been skirting on his favoured left edge, while the emergence of Leeson Ah Mau has caused Thompson to ease his way into the Dragons fold off the bench. Creagh said he’s happy back in his wide-running role as he develops a combination with Widdop and centre Gerard Beale.
‘‘I’m really enjoying left-edge back row, [but] I’m happy to fill in the front row as well,’’ he said.
‘‘Everyone can see the depth we’ve got in the front row with the Coopers, de Belins, Stockwells and Hunts.
‘‘I’m enjoying developing a combination there with Gareth too, and Gerard, which is something new for me.’’
Coach Steve Price has a selection headache with the return of Jack Stockwell and Jack de Belin from injury, adding the pair to an extended six-man bench for the derby against Cronulla on Saturday night.
Thompson is hoping to survive the cull and is expecting a ‘‘fiery’’ clash in his first game in St George Illawarra colours against their fierce rivals.
‘‘We’ve still got a bit to go to if we want to match it with the top teams,’’ he said.
‘‘I get the feeling from fans on Twitter and fans in general it’s going to be a big one. There’s a big rivalry there.
‘‘I dare say they’ll be firing after last weekend. They’re a very good side.
‘‘We’re going to have to be on our game to make sure we do what we need to do to win it.’’