Gutherson eyes fullback role long-term
Given Parramatta's off-season recruitment spree has netted them four Test and Origin players, the addition of one-time Junior Kangaroo Clint Gutherson has attracted relatively few headlines, but the former Sea Eagle's signature could still be one of the most significant as he eyes a move to fullback further into his NRL career.
The Eels struggled to effectively replace superstar Jarryd Hayne at fullback last year, and while bona-fide No.1 and former NSW winger Michael Gordon has arrived to plug both that gap and hopefully fix up the team's goal-kicking dramas, at 32 years of age he is not a long-term solution.
Gutherson is expected to nab a wing spot for the Eels come Round 1 at Pirtek Stadium but his preferred spot is at the back.
With prodigious youngster Bevan French probably still a couple of seasons away from being up to the rigours of week-in-week-out NRL, Gutherson – already Parramatta's backup No.1 behind Gordon – could well get a solid run at the back over the next couple of seasons.
In the short term, the Cromer Kingfishers junior is just hoping to learn as much as he can from the senior players around him, especially Gordon, who he said has already had a huge influence on him this pre-season.
Having been leapfrogged by young star Tom Trbojevic in Manly's fullback succession plan, Gutherson said it was opportunity that drove him west to link up with former Manly assistant coach Brad Arthur, along with several ex-teammates like Kieran Foran, Anthony Watmough and James Hasson.
"I had [Arthur] a couple of years ago at Manly so when the opportunity came we just had a chat and then I thought it was a good stepping stone in my career," Gutherson told NRL.com.
"I had a couple of words to 'Foz' [Foran] as well, just had a chat to him, it made it a bit easier knowing he was out here and he's one of the world's best so it was easy to follow him."
Gutherson has played just five NRL games in three different positions (fullback, wing and centre) across three seasons due to a combination of injuries and opportunities and is hoping the change of scenery this year reignites his NRL career.
"I've sort of started my career again. I've had a couple of off years with injuries and stuff but hopefully I can have a good year this year and see where it takes me.
"[Arthur] gave me an opportunity and a role as well. We've got a good young team here with a couple of good signings lately so we're going to have a good year this year. I just came out here for good opportunity, it's a good move I think."
Gutherson can afford a chuckle now when reminded about his last, less-than-memorable appearance at Pirtek Stadium in Round 1 last year, when he was carried off with a ruptured ACL less than 20 minutes in, ending his season.
"It wasn't the best time, Round 1 last year, but it can only go uphill from there I guess!" he laughed.
"I'm fine now, back to 100 per cent, doing everything that the team's doing. It feels good to be back. Everything's good, I'm as fit as I've ever been."
Gutherson isn't shy about declaring fullback his desired spot in the long term.
"My preferred position is fullback but we've got 'Flash' [Gordon] there so I'm just going to take any position I can get and try and make it my own while I can," Gutherson said.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as possible. All pre-season I've been jumping in at fullback and [Gordon] has been telling me what to do and I've just got to put my own twist on it. It's good experience coming in and I've just got to learn as much as possible.
"He has [taken me under his wing]. He's taken a lot of us young boys, he just helps us out when he can. He just says 'you've got to do your own thing'. There's always things you have to do at fullback but you've just got to make it your own.
"You've got to be everywhere in attack and defence, you've got to be yelling so you're always moving. Once you start playing there you have that fitness and know what you have to do so it's not too bad."
One of the biggest parts of being a top-line fullback is one of the aspects casual fans barely notice, but also what separates the Billy Slaters of the world from the also-rans. It's talk in defence – both lifting the side but more crucially organising the defence from their unique vantage point behind the play.
"Talk is one of the biggest keys. Everyone's looking for you [to know] which way to go, where to be, you've just got to consistently talk so even if you're stuffed and out of breath you just have to keep talking. That's what some people on the sidelines don't really see but it is one of the major keys of the game," Gutherson said.
But he stressed the fullback talk is premature, with his short-term goal just to justify a regular spot in Brad Arthur's team week to week.
"Yeah that's my main goal, just try and play week in week out, nail a spot, gel with the boys, hopefully have a good 2016 and hopefully be playing in October," he said.
"I missed all last year so I'm just eager to get out there. I'm just looking forward to getting back into team things."