In-form Norman eyes halves return
Despite helping guide his club to the cusp of the top eight and three straight wins from fullback, stand-in Eels custodian Corey Norman says he's looking forward to returning to five-eighth once injured No.1 Reece Robinson returns.
Norman is an excellent communicator on the field and has guided the side around well with both the 6 and the 1 on his back this year, but with Will Hopoate not making a successful transition to the fullback role and then Reece Robinson's fractured cheekbone, Norman has had to adapt to a role he played for one full season at Brisbane in 2013.
Norman has been the Eels fullback through a run of good form since Robinson fractured his cheekbone against the Storm in Round 14 but with the ex-Raider due back as soon as Round 20 against the Cowboys, Norman said he has been assured of a return to his preferred five-eighth role.
Having debuted at fullback for Brisbane in 2010, Norman spent two and a half seasons in the halves before a full year at the back in 2013 – part of the reason he sought an opportunity at the Eels.
The man currently filling that role, Luke Kelly, is off contract and unsure about both where he fits in this year upon Robinson's return and where he will be playing next year, with England an option.
Norman said after a rusty return to his old role he has grown more comfortable in recent weeks.
"The first week there I was getting used to it and last week [the Round 17 win against Wests Tigers] I felt a lot more comfortable. It feels good," he said.
"I'd rather be playing five-eighth. It's just ways to find the ball is a bit different, I'm used to getting my hands on the ball a lot more so I've got to learn different ways to get my hands on the ball.
"The first week was a bit shaky and rusty, last week I felt comfortable and felt in the groove again and it was sweet."
He said the club had at one stage hoped Robinson would be back to face the Bulldogs but was not passed fit.
"We were hopeful Reece was going to get back this week but he didn't so I've got to play there again, but if Reece came back I would go straight back into five-eighth," Norman said.
"He [coach brad Arthur] has told me that. I think against the Dragons I played a bit of half in the second half, it's just trying to get my hands on the ball really.
"I control the team and that just allows [halfback] Chrissy [Sandow] to play footy, he doesn't have to do too much thinking and he just plays backyard footy which he's good at. I just get us to our points [where we want to be on the field] and then if Chrissy sees something he does it and we just play our shape."
Norman said Kelly had done a good job stepping in as a controlling half alongside Sandow.
"Kels has stepped in and he's a good controller too, so Kels calls the shots and I just ask where they want me to be and just play my role."
Norman expects to be playing in the halves alongside incoming Manly and Kiwi star five-eighth Kieran Foran next year following conversations with Arthur.
"I think I'll be in the halves, me and Foz, but we don't worry about that [yet]," Norman said. "We all know how good Kieran is, it's good that he actually came here and didn't stay at Manly."
Arthur hasn't yet told Kelly where he stands in terms of his immediate playing career once Robinson returns, although Arthur had at one stage earlier in the season indicated a preference to partner Kelly with Norman at the expense of Sandow.
"We haven't really spoken about it too much because obviously we had a bye [in Round 18], we've been away a bit, had a few days off. I honestly don't know – we'll sort that out after Friday night," Kelly said.
He added he was hoping to have his playing future beyond this year sorted out sooner rather than later, with England an option if he is not offered a deal at the Eels.
"I'm off contract at the moment so hopefully I'll have something sorted out. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll know a bit more anyway," Kelly said. "[England] is definitely something I would consider."