Try-scoring whiz French adjusting to physicality of NRL
With a stunning seven tries in just four NRL games, it looks as though Eels youngster Bevan French is handling the transition from NYC to NRL just fine but the 20-year-old says there's plenty he needs to work on.
French's hat-trick in Parramatta's 34-24 loss at Cronulla on Saturday came on the back of scoring one, one and two tries respectively in his opening three NRL matches and the Tingha speedster breaking the Auckland Nines try-scoring record with eight in the pre-season tournament at the start of the year.
The way French effortlessly swept onto a Corey Norman grubber and his chanceless fingertip put-down for his first try, the opportunistic way he scooped up a loose Cronulla pass and tiptoed down the touchline before streaking away for his second, and the raw pace with which he burned Cronulla's edge defence before skipping over James Maloney's diving tackle then stepping a flat-footed Ben Barba to score untouched revealed a brimming bag of try-scoring tricks.
However his fledgling combination with centre Clint Gutherson was also ruthlessly pulled apart by a Sharks side unafraid to run at his edge on last-tackle plays and four crucial tries came down that channel in the six-tries-to-four loss.
His coach Brad Arthur praised French's potential after the game but cautioned he is still a work in progress while French said he is just trying to adapt to the more physical nature of first grade – though still eyeing a move to fullback one day down the track.
"The transition's good, I'm feeling confident out there but there's still a few things I need to work on. I'll just keep chipping away on them at training and hopefully get better at those things," French said.
"Personally I'd like to play fullback [in the future], I could play fullback but just now, starting off on the wing and just starting to get my feel of the physicality of things in there and starting to work my way in and get used to the physical level then hopefully switch to fullback."
Like his coach, French wasn't getting carried away with his impressive start in the NRL.
"It's started off pretty well with seven tries but it doesn't feel too good to get three tries and not come away with the two points in the end," he said.
He admitted to being a little surprised to find himself in first grade so soon given Arthur's indication early in the year he would need more time to develop, as well as the wealth of outside backs at the club this year.
"Especially when you look at the people we've got in our squad, there's a few big names there. I think I've just been fortunate there with a few injuries. Unlucky for them but I guess that's lucky for me," French said.
"I missed the first four or five rounds [this year] injured and then I came back, played two games of 20s and got injured again and I was out for another four or five weeks after that. I think it was another two games of 20s before I got the call up so it's been disappointing at the start of the year but I'm starting to do pretty good now."
French's likely future transition to fullback has been aided by some tutoring this year by veteran Michael Gordon.
"He's very helpful. Every training session we do a few extras together and he's helped me with my positioning and stuff like that," French said of Gordon.
With more than a hint of famous footballing relatives Preston Campbell and Nathan Blacklock in his blood, French has also leaned on them for advice throughout his formative years.
"They're very helpful and supportive. I talk to [Blacklock] quite a bit now and he's been really supportive over the past few years," French said.
Speaking about French's promising start, Arthur was reserved in his praise.
"He's got plenty of pace and you can't coach speed," Arthur said.
"He's doing OK, still got a fair bit to learn, especially in defence but it's the only way he's going to learn is being under pressure in those situations. We're happy with him. He needs to continue to work on some defensive principles and working with his inside defender but he's getting better."