Eels forge ahead with last halves standing
We can only imagine the response you would have got if you tried to tell Eels coach Brad Arthur in February this year he'd be heading into Round 20 with Jeff Robson and Clint Gutherson as his halves pairing.
But the young fullback who started the year on the wing and the retiring veteran who started the year at the Warriors are officially the sixth and seventh six and seven used by a club that finds itself at sixes and sevens, and given all of that, the pair's debut outing last week was an impressive one.
Robson was as steady as he was when he helped the Eels to the 2009 NRL Grand Final and Gutherson, as outlined by his coach afterwards, is simply a natural footballer – albeit a freakishly gifted one who scored one try and laid on two others in the opening quarter-hour of last week's loss to Penrith.
With top-liners Kieran Foran and Corey Norman both out for the year and currently without a club for 2017 plus reserve halves Luke Kelly and Mitch Cornish on the long-term injured list, centre Brad Takairangi and back-rower Kenny Edwards enjoyed spells at five-eighth alongside Norman before Robson's recruitment mere days before the June 30 transfer deadline.
Speaking to media this week though, Edwards joked that he was "filthy" at being overlooked for the gig after playing there three times for two wins recently.
"On the weekend, my job was to go back in the forwards and start playing my role in the forwards and Gutho went to five-eighth which I was filthy about," the irrepressible Kiwi laughed.
"[We won] two from three when I playing in the six but that's all right, Guth did a good job for us on the weekend and hopefully I can get back in the forwards and do my job."
Despite some impressive skill being shown by Gutherson in his first NRL start in the halves, Edwards had some cheeky advice for the 21-year-old when NRL.com suggested Gutherson's edge in the kicking department (his grubber kick set up a Bevan French try) may be behind Edwards being overlooked for the gig.
"No way, did you see the seven tackles he gave away? He did a banana kick back to no-one!" Edwards laughed.
"Nah man but I had no kicking game so I can't talk, but Guth did a good job there. His main focus during the week was to run and that's what he did and did a good job for us."
After also being forced to fill in at centre when Michael Jennings limped off with a hamstring injury last week, Edwards is hoping to actually finish out this week's match against the Titans in his preferred position for a chance.
"'Takas' (centre Brad Takairangi) has been out for a while now, hopefully he's back this week… [Michael Jennings is] out for two weeks. We can't catch a break but in saying that someone else will step up and play centre this week and do a good job I'm sure.
"That's our mentality, wherever you play on the field you've got a job to do. Our biggest fear is letting our teammates down. I think the boys that have stepped in this year have done a good job."
French – the beneficiary of Gutherson's short kicking game last week – admitted he was initially surprised to see Gutherson named in the halves but had been impressed by his efforts.
"I was a bit surprised with Gutho getting the call last week but he did a very good job. It's up to Brad and the coaching staff I guess. I'm sure whoever gets the role will do a good job," French said.
"Gutho did a good job there on the weekend and if he gets there or Brad [Takairangi] I'm happy with whatever."
Robson has also been a much-needed addition at halfback, French said.
"He only came here a few weeks ago but he slotted straight in, it's like he's been here all year," the winger said.
"He just took a bit of pressure off the halves when 'Normy' (Norman) was there, Normy was running the whole show by himself but he took a bit of pressure off Normy.
"On the weekend he helped Gutho out a lot and it's taking a lot of pressure off the other half."