French a highlight of bright Eels future
Young star Bevan French and the rapidly-improving Clint Gutherson are just two reasons for Eels fans to be optimistic next season will bring some brighter days than 2016.
While the club's off-field dramas have been well-documented, an impressive win over the Dragons in Parramatta's final match at Pirtek Stadium before a major redevelopment brought some glimpses of the future.
The final 30-18 score-line arguably flattered the Red V, though Eels coach Brad Arthur was decidedly unimpressed with Kurt Mann's 76th- and 78th-minute tries to close the gap from 30-6 with five minutes to play.
Gutherson and French were two of the best on the field but the forwards all got their job done too and arguably the best of those – try-scorer Kenny Edwards – recently inked a three-year contract extension.
Speaking to NRL.com after the win, Edwards praised the passion of the 13,553-strong crowd to turn out in force on a Monday night with the club's 2016 finals hopes already gone.
"Our fans, they turn up, we've been through some tough times since I've been here since 2012. A couple of wooden spoons in a row. To see the crowd turn up, 14-odd thousand on a Monday night is massive and I'm glad I got the win for them tonight," Edwards said.
With key man Corey Norman also re-signing recently along with prop Danny Wicks and hooker Isaac De Gois – plus the signing of Manly prop Siosaia Vave – the Eels roster for 2017 and beyond is taking shape.
"I'm happy to secure my future here for the next three years and happy that there's blokes signing on, they've made a few more signings and there's blokes jumping on board for next year and the year after," Edwards said.
"This is the place we all want to be, there's a coach we all want to play for and to see all those boys re-sign is massive."
French told NRL.com he was loving his time at fullback but would have no hard feelings if he doesn't start there next season.
"I was lucky enough to get three tries [on Monday night] but in saying that I've still got a lot to work on," French said.
"I feel pretty lucky actually, I was in the right spot at the right time. Brad and the coaching staff were just talking to me through the week about just keep pushing on the ball and when you've got inside and outside, 'Flash' [Michael Gordon] and 'Takas' [Brad Takairangi] and Semi [Radradra] people like that in the backline, it makes my job easy.
"They've got so much skill and you saw that tonight."
Arthur praised the improvements seen from both French and Gutherson in particular after each played key roles in the win over St George Illawarra.
Asked about French's hat-trick, Arthur smiled: "Yeah he's getting better, isn't he?
"I had a bit of a chat to him during the week that scoring tries is great, but trying to pride himself on stopping them is better.
"Him and Clint Gutherson, every time you tell them something, they make sure they go out of their way to try and improve it. And while ever they keep doing that, they'll have a long time in the game and a long time at this club."
Gutherson's work ethic came in for particular praise from Arthur.
"He's another who's getting better," Arthur said. "He gives himself every chance to get better just through, he's the first in to do video. He's the last off the training paddock all the time."
Arthur reiterated that he was as committed to the playing group as they were to the club.
"We were continually reported [this year] that we were a basket-case, but we're not. We're a strong club. We're going to make sure we move forward," he said.
"This playing group is committed to each other and the club and I'm committed to them. Hopefully there's only positives ahead for us. The fact that they all want to stay, the players sell a team and a club.
"They're the ones who talk, they're the ones who help you recruit other players. Our boys have worked hard and they enjoy it here. I'm grateful to be able to coach this group of players."
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