HE'S played just one game in the Illawarra, but Corrimal halfback Benton Pyako can already lay claim to the biggest fan club in the competition.
A product of rugby league-mad Papua New Guinea, Pyako scored two tries as the Cougars mounted a remarkable 29-0 run to beat Wests in the opening round of the Open Age competition last week.
Most notable was the cluster of fans at the northern end of the park cheering his every touch, with Wollongong's PNG community rallying around its new favourite son.
Pyako says it's been great to be so readily embraced by a new family on arriving in Wollongong.
"Rugby league is No. 1 in PNG, they love the game, everyone, the crowds just go crazy for it," Pyako said.
"PNG's a small place, there's a community in Wollongong, they heard about me coming down. For PNG, it's like not just representing the club, but your representing the family, the culture, all of Papua New Guinea.
"I just said to one of my mates I met down here 'oh I'm playing on the weekend' and then text messages went around and said 'let's all go and support PNG'.
"I don't have any family here, they're all back in PNG, so it was awesome to see them all down there cheering me on."
Pyako comes to Cougars after two previous Australian seasons in Perth with Rockingham Sharks in 2017 and 2019, the latter catching the Cougars attention.
The COVID-19 pandemic wrought havoc on the club's plans for 2020 but Pyako, who's also coaching the Cougars under 10s, was determined to stay on and chase some silverware.
"It's my first time signing with the club, I came down to play first grade but when the comp got reset I said yeah, what the hell, I just wanted to play some footy," he said.
"Through COVID I kept training and tried to stay positive and think 'there's going to be a game coming up'. The coaches and club are building up for next year, I'm thinking about that, but I said to the coaches 'let's get this trophy'.
"I believe in the boys. If they can believe in themselves, I think we can put ourselves up there."
The Cougars overhauled a 22-6 deficit in knocking off the Devils on their home patch. They'll face another big test when they host Thirroul at Ziems Park on Saturday and Pyako said his side will need to build on their first outing.
"To be honest it was one of those games where the boys were all new and we just had to put our hands up and play," Pyako said.
"We hadn't trained much together because if COVID, everyone was new, but when we picked up the momentum it really helped us in the second half.
"To play the first game and play like that, was impressive for me. We just need to build from that and see how we go on the weekend."
Elsewhere in the Open Age competition, Dapto will host Wests in a derby at Dapto Showground, while Avondale will travel north to take on Helensburgh at Rex Jackson Oval.