Moments before the Parramatta Eels announced the signing of Jarryd Hayne last week, Brad Arthur called Clint Gutherson and Bevan French in for a meeting.
“We knew straight away when he called us what we were going to have a chat about it,” French told NRL.com.
Arthur didn’t waste any time addressing the elephant in the room. He didn’t want his players, especially two of the players considered an integral part of the long-term future of the club, to feel like discards.
He didn’t want them thinking Hayne was returning to rule the roost, so he assured the pair they would be given first crack at the fullback position despite the prodigal son’s second coming at Parramatta.
“To hear that from the club, that gives us a bit of confidence that they have the believe in me and Gutho to give us the first crack at it and see how we go,” French said during the club’s pre-season camp in Alice Springs.
“It makes us want to work harder and make sure we don’t stuff it up because of the belief they have in us.”
Even though Gutherson and French are in a two-way battle for the No.1 jersey, they have had a private conversation to ensure there isn’t any bitterness as they fight for the right to play in their favoured position.
“I said it this year when Gutho came back and went to fullback and I went to wing – I’m happy for Gutho,” French said.
“At the end of the day it’s what is best for the team, it’s a team sport, and if Gutho is better at fullback then he’s better at fullback.
“We have had that conversation just me and him individually and he’s great about it as well. He said if I get it or if he gets it, there’s no drama between anyone. We’re not going to be sour about it.
But the Eels are reluctant to rush him back from what is his second ACL rupture and have played down the likelihood of Gutherson taking the field against the Penrith Panthers in round one.
Gutherson, who is likely to be back at some point in the first four to six weeks of the season, enjoyed a breakout 2017, showing his versatility in his various stints at fullback, centre and five-eighth before the knee injury brought it all crashing down.
The 23-year-old still doesn’t know where he belongs on a football field but feels comfortable in the custodian’s role.
“I like fullback, I’ve played all my junior footy at fullback,” Gutherson said as he continued his rehabilitation in the Northern Territory.
“I liked going back there at the end of the year and filling in but I have no idea, to be honest, what position I am. I probably won’t know until a couple of years’ time when I’ve locked down a position. In our conversation with Brad, he just said ‘nothing has changed’. He’s obviously spoken to Jarryd and given him what he’s going to do with Jarryd.
“I read the other day that Jarryd’s not going to come back and do what he wants. Brad is going to control it. Haynesy is a freak and has been at the top for what seems like 30 years now.
“But he’s still only 28 or 29. He’s going to come back and offer a lot. He’s back to where it all started. He’s going to come back and fit in perfectly, I think. I’m just happy to play with him. He was a childhood hero growing up. If I can just play a couple of games with him, no matter where I sit, I’ll be happy.”
It is understood Hayne is likely to start the season at left centre, but a player of his calibre has the potential to force his way into the fullback role should he manage to rediscover the type of form that led him to win two Dally M medals for the Eels.
“Haynesy in his prime was a fullback at this club and that this club means a lot to him,” French said.
“I guess even at the end of the day if Haynesy comes back and is playing fullback over me and Gutho and he’s killing it then so be it. If he’s killing it, that’s what is best for the team.”