The opening week of the Pacific Championships delivered a feast of attacking football as the Kangaroos and Jillaroos opened their campaigns with wins and the Kumuls had their fans in raptures with a nine-try romp in Port Moresby.
A host of players were handed international debuts across the weekend and answered the call in style, while the experienced Test performers also delivered for their country in the big moments.
From flashy fullbacks to barnstorming centres and scheming playmakers, NRL.com runs the rule over the players whose stocks rose during round one of the inaugural Pacific Championships.
Sua Fa'alogo (Toa Samoa)
One NRL game, one Test match, one massive reputation. The Melbourne Storm young gun backed up his dazzling debut against the Broncos six weeks ago with another high class display in his maiden Test appearance. Up against the best side in the world, Fa'alogo ran for 176 metres and broke 11 tackles and came up with a brilliant chip and regather for a 'try' that was pulled back for a knock on. On his current trajectory, Fa'alogo will be making a strong case to be Storm's No.1 come the start of the 2024 season should Ryan Papenhuyzen still remain sidelined.
Tamika Upton (Jillaroos)
On the back of a stellar NRLW season that culminated with a fourth premiership, a second Karyn Murphy Medal and a Dally M Medal, Upton burst onto the international scene with an exhilarating display at fullback for the Jillaroos. The 26-year-old made 214 metres from 19 runs and crossed for two tries as the world champions took care of business against their old foes. "If Tamika doesn't play, we win," Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry observed post-match. "She's a quality player and she did some things she's been doing all year. We tried to minimise her impact and that's something we'll need to be aware of for the game in Melbourne."
Upton's dream Jillaroos debut
Mele Hufanga (Kiwi Ferns)
No, that's not a misprint in the stats sheet from Saturday night's Test match, Kiwi Ferns powerhouse Mele Hufanga did have 17 tackle breaks against the best side in the world. Carrying her Broncos form onto the big stage, the 28-year-old left a trail of destruction on her way to the try-line in the 44th minute to drag her team back into the contest. If Hufanga is on song in Auckland on Saturday, her Mate Ma'a opponents could be in for a very long afternoon as they try to work out a way to nullify her speed, power and footwork.
Lachlan Lam (PNG Kumuls)
On the back of a Super League season in which he set up 21 tries, Lachlan Lam got right back to it for the Kumuls with a star showing in their demolition of the Cook Islands. The 25-year-old laid on three tries and constantly threatened with touches in the middle of the park, delivering a reminder of his capabilities to the Southern Hemisphere audience who last saw him play at NRL level for the Roosters back in 2021.
Lam kicks a 20/40
Kotoni Staggs (Kangaroos)
One of four debutants in Mal Meninga's backline, Staggs grabbed his green and gold opportunity with both hands in a polished and powerful display. The Broncos centre racked up 195 run metres and a couple of line breaks on the right edge, capping his night with a try in the 80th minute off a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber. Having previously played for Tonga at international level to honour his father's side of the family, Staggs has now fulfilled a dream of representing the country he grew up in. "I was born in Australia. That's always been a dream. I've always wanted to put the green and gold jersey on," he told media post-match. On the back of his strong showing in Townsville it certainly won't be the last time the 24-year-old pulls on a Kangaroos jersey.
Staggs with the sealer
Tarryn Aiken (Jillaroos)
The Roosters livewire proved the perfect foil for halfback and skipper Ali Brigginshaw at last year's World Cup and the pair again had a huge say in proceedings in Townsville as the Jillaroos snuck home in a tight one. Aiken had the Kiwi Ferns defence on high alert for the entire 70 minutes as she produced four line break assists and ran for 135 metres. On the back of 17 line break assists in 10 games for the Roosters in the NRLW, Aiken again showed why she is rated one of the game's premier playmakers. Already a two-time premiership winner and World Cup winner at just 24, Aiken is set for a long and distinguished career in the green and gold.
Judah Rimbu (Kumuls)
In the absence of suspended first-choice hooker Edwin Ipape, Judah Rimbu stole the show at dummy-half with a dominant performance in attack and some big defensive numbers. Playing all but six minutes, Rimbu churned through a team-high 40 tackles without a single miss and punished the Cook Islands middle forwards with his running game, which saw gain 66 metres, make a line break and break through four tackle attempts.