The Wests Tigers got their campaign off to a horrid start on Thursday evening, being thumped in the first trial against the New Zealand Warriors.

Realistically, the result didn't mean a lot given the number of top-tier players who were missing from both sides - and let's be honest, trial results never mean much.

But styles of play do matter, because a lot of the time, they are the structures that have been coached into the squad over the summer, or the attitude that a squad has coming into the season.

And that alone was enough of a reason to worry for Tim Sheens, Benji Marshall and the Tigers after they were beaten comprehensively in Auckland to the tune of 48 points to 12.

It is, of course, early days, and the Tigers have a number of star faces to come into this side, particularly in the forwards.

For so long, one of the big problems at the joint venture has been defence, and the they have taken steps to correct that this year. The quartet of signings in the forwards - Apisai Koroisau, David Klemmer, John Bateman and Isaiah Papali'i - are all designed to improve the Tigers at both ends of the park, but they will bring attitude and technique to the defensive line of the club, which has, to be brutally honest, been brittle for many years.

So, while the opening trial isn't the end of the world for the Tigers, it's clear there is still plenty that needs changing in the final three weeks of training before the season gets underway, with the Tigers set to fact the Gold Coast Titans in an opening round match between two of last year's bottom four.

But if there was a bright spot in the Tigers' trip across the ditch for their opening ‘competitive' hit out of 2023, then it was prop Stefano Utoikamanu.

The prop spent a lot of the 2022 campaign watching on from the sidelines, managing just nine games as he battled various injuries throughout the course of the year.

It was a tough year for Utoikamanu, but the now 22-year-old has uncoachable attributes - he stands at 191 centimetres and 115 kilograms, and has an enormous motor which allows him to produce at high levels for every minute he is on the park.

His 2021 season, where he played 21 games and was selected in the extended Origin squad for Game 3 of the series to get some experience, is a testament to that.

He dominated junior football prior to his NRL debut at the Parramatta Eels in 2020, and while that doesn't always mean everything once a player arrives in the NRL, his performance playing for the Junior Blues a handful of years ago still stands out, as it does for one of his new teammates in Sione Fainu, who was also solid off the bench on Friday evening for the joint-venture.

What Utoikamanu brings is a difference - an x-factor if you will - and while his impact would be useful off the bench, it's starting games where he must play.

The rest of the Tigers' middle-third group are all consistent, big-minute players. Joe Ofahenague, David Klemmer and Alex Twal are the other three players who could possibly be in line to start the season for Tim Sheens, rather than spending the first 20 minutes of it riding the bench.

But where Utoikamanu differs from Twal, Ofahengaue and Klemmer is his impact, his motor, and the ability to bring other parts to the game rather than just being that presence in the middle third of a player who runs hard and tackles hard.

The Tigers need Klemmer, Twal and Ofahengaue more than anything, but they also need Ofahengaue, and there is very little point bringing him into the game 20 or 25 minutes in if the Tigers are on the back foot.

Instead, having him start games and set the tempo, before allowing someone like Twal to come off the bench and replace him is the way to go about it.

To allow Twal and co to then keep the momentum running for the Tigers, rather than having to try and build it for Utoikamanu to take over.

What Utoikamanu also does is make creative players more dangerous. His ability to push an offload, or use footwork at the line to drag multiple defenders, creates time and space for his creative players, which is something Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi will need in abundance this year.

His speed of play also will allow Apisai Koroisau to be at his best.

Simply put, Utoikamanu can make all the difference for the Tigers, but he will make a lot more in the starting side.