Happy days... Eels forward Tepai Moeroa has been an instant hit since making his debut a fortnight ago. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Eels coach Brad Arthur says the club is close to securing teenage sensation Tepai Moeroa to a long-term deal to stay at Parramatta.
One of the hottest properties on the market, Moeroa was in the crosshairs of Super Rugby franchises the Waratahs and Chiefs but will soon announce his re-commitment to the Eels.
"We're close to making a statement on his future soon," Parramatta coach Brad Arthur told NRL.com on Wednesday.
Due to a bulging injury toll in the forwards, the Eels were able to blood Moeroa against the Warriors a fortnight ago on a salary cap exemption.
But the 18-year-old backed up his debut with an impressive outing against the Rabbitohs last Friday night that had commentators gushing over his defensive ability.
The Cook Island prospect has also been a hit off the field, fast-becoming a cult figure with the blue-and-gold faithful, with many likening his playing style to that of club icon Nathan Hindmarsh.
"I guess it's the hair. Everyone's been calling him Hindy, the way the hair bounces around on the field for him," teammate Junior Paulo said.
"We've been giving him a bit of stick – he's got the longest hair in the club besides Fui, but that's Fui's trademark."
But Arthur says Moeroa's similarities to Hindmarsh go far beyond his growing mop of hair.
"When we started watching him in the -20s, I spoke with the assistants, and we thought he was a similar player to Nathan because Nathan's priority – his first thought was about defence – and young Tepai's the same," he said.
"Whereas most young blokes that come through nowadays the first thing they want to do is attack, he's real defence-minded. And the good thing about it is he's got so much room for improvement.
"He's still learning the game, still learning the role that's got to play, but we don't want to overload him this year. We still want him to match it physically and then we can teach him some more physically in the pre-season."
Having begun with the Eels' Harold Matthews team in 2010, Moeroa has spent the past three years juggling his development at Parramatta with his commitments as an Australian Rugby Schoolboy.
But it took just one game for him in the NSW Cup three weeks ago to convince Arthur he was ready for the NRL furnace.
"We only had the opportunity to put him at Wenty once to have a look at him, and I went and watched him, he went really well," Arthur said.
"He defended really well and carried the ball strongly. The concern was always going to be whether he was up to it physically. It was only a couple of weeks ago, it was the weeks before the Warriors I went out and watched him.
"I seen him at the -20s and we knew that he was going to be a player, but I probably didn't expect him to come on this quick. We thought we'd have to train him up a little bit. And he needed a full pre-season, which he had, and then a full 12 months of playing -20s, but an opportunity came up through injuries and yeah, he's going well."