On the surface Western Suburbs are just a clean cut above everyone else.
Leading the Newcastle first grade competition with just one loss, comfortably holding the best for and against records while also averaging a 22-point margin from the opening 10 games.
Underneath it all doing the dirty work is Ben Stone.
The 21-year-old Belmont South second-rower comes from good rugby league stock – dad Rick the former Knights coach and younger brother Sam a current NRL player.
And while sometimes “underestimated” Wests mentor Matt Lantry knows the value of this Maltese international and counts his lucky stars to have the Lakes junior at Harker Oval in 2017.
“It hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Lantry said.
“We’re paying 200 points for him and it’s probably the best 200 points we’ve spent.
“He’s well respected by his teammates and just does all the little things.
“A guy actually described him to me just recently as the Dallas Johnston [former Australian forward] of the footy team or even like Alan Tongue [former Canberra skipper]. They don’t do all flashy things, but they do all the little shitty things.”
Lantry can rattle off Stone’s weekly statistics – 30 or 40 tackles and 15 carries for 100-plus metres – but it’s much more than simply crunching the numbers.
“Work ethic,” Lantry said. “I thoroughly enjoy coaching him for what he brings to the table because he lets his actions do all the talking.
“And his effort areas are so impressive – it’s kick chase, it’s trail on the inside, it’s saving a try. He never misses an assignment and understands the game well.”
Lantry and Stone crossed paths at the Knights last year with NSW Cup. It was an insight on what to expect and potentially what’s to come.
“He always turns up and does his job,” Lantry said.
“Week in and week out you know what you’re going to get from him.
“You don’t have to worry about how he prepares or what his mental state is before a game because when Ben Stone’s there to play he gets it done.
“I’d actually like to think we’ll have him at Wests for a long, long time. He has great leadership qualities and is a potential leader among that group down the track.”
Although at a new club Stone has linked up with a few familiar faces at Wests, including playmaker Ryan Walker and utility James Elias, and feels that has been part of the team’s success.
“It was a bit hard to go from Lakes to Wests but Matt [Lantry] has got the right crew there and I’m really enjoying my footy,” Stone said.
“It’s pretty much the same players as last year [from Wests] plus five of us came over and we all played together [at Knights] last year. So we’ve gelled pretty well.”