Bevan French saw the writing on the wall weeks ago. He knew his position at fullback for Parramatta was under threat when he watched Clint Gutherson fire from the back in his absence through injury.
Which is why French was far from shocked when Eels coach Brad Arthur last week informed him he would slot back to the wing to accommodate Gutherson’s semi-permanent transition to the No.1 position.
He didn’t kick stones. He didn’t whinge. It doesn’t mean French isn’t driven and determined to win back the fullback jersey, but he knows the best thing for Parramatta at this point of the season is to have Gutherson calling the shots from the back as he continues his development as an NRL player.
“I saw it coming to tell you the truth,” French said after the Eels’ 24-10 win over the Dragons on Sunday.
“When I was injured, I saw how Gutho was killing it at fullback. He’s been going great guns. He’s been very consistent all year. No matter where you put him he’s one of the best on the park. Unfortunately injuries and stuff happen in footy, so when I got injured and he went back to fullback for a few weeks he was killing it.
“I came back and was a bit off the pace. It was in the back of my mind that something like that was going to happen. It is a bit of a motivation for the future but I’m only 21. I’m not going to get down in the dumps about it. I still have a long career ahead.”
French made a number of pivotal plays in helping Parramatta to a somewhat uninspiring victory against a stuttering St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Gutherson also did his best to justify Arthur’s show of faith, bagging a double in his side’s sixth consecutive win against the Dragons.
Arthur made a point of praising French for his attitude despite informing the pint-sized pocket rocket that he would be relegated to the wing.
“He’s short and sharp, Brad. He doesn’t muck around,” French said.
“He just said, ‘mate, you’re playing wing this weekend’ and I said, ‘yep, sweet’. That’s all it was. I will do what’s best for the team and Gutho at fullback, he’s in great form, that’s what is best for the team. Why not keep him in and around the footy. I wasn’t upset at all. More than anything it’s what is best for the team. Gutho is doing an outstanding job there.
“I saw it as an opportunity to cement my spot in another position. Definitely long-term my goal is to be fullback. But I realise now I’m only 21. I still have a lot to work on. My body is getting used to the game – the physical side and fitness. I wasn’t down in the dumps about it. It’s just another week in the office.”
The Eels have made no secret of their desire to ensure French is the club’s long-term fullback, but in the short-term – and possibly for the rest of the season – Gutherson will be their No.1.
One of the reasons the Eels did not pursue Jarryd Hayne was because of their belief in French, something that wasn’t lost on him during the speculation regarding Hayne’s future earlier in the year.
“It meant a lot to me to hear that stuff. [Arthur] said it at the back-end of last year and this year he gave me the opportunity to start the year as the one.
“To be starting fullback at 21 is a big wrap for me. I’m glad to see the faith they have shown in me. I heard a few rumours [about Hayne] but that wasn’t in the back of my mind. Things like that are a distraction. I don’t think about those things.”