All Star French ready for a fullback's defence
He may have lit up the Auckland Nines for a second straight year with another bevy of tries but for young Eels fullback Bevan French, this season is about proving he has what it takes without the ball.
The 21-year-old Tingha product – who admits he is still pinching himself that he is heading into a game alongside such illustrious names as Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston – is almost precisely one year on from his breakout 2016 Nines campaign that saw him cross for a record nine tries in five games.
That form continued into the NRL season; after being blooded in Round 12, French scored 13 tries in 11 starts on the wing before being shifted to fullback for the final two games of the season and racking up a hat-trick in each.
But rather than getting ahead of himself, French – who this year takes over from Bondi-bound Michael Gordon as Parramatta coach Brad Arthur's first-choice No.1 – has committed to doing better in defence while maintaining his attacking prowess.
"I've done most of the training [at fullback] in the pre-season, I think I'm expected to start there but there's a few other people there so I'll have to keep on my toes and keep chipping away at training and doing all the little things right there," French told NRL.com as he headed into Indigenous All Stars camp.
"I took a bit of confidence out of last year, ending the year with a few tries and really looking forward to getting out there this year. I learned a lot off 'Flash' (Gordon).
"Watching the way he plays and seeing how many pushes he does during a game, I've learned over the pre-season just how fit you have to be to be a fullback in the top grade."
Asked about his ball-playing skills – a key asset for the modern fullback and an area French is already fairly advanced – the Tingha Tigers junior instead points to some defensive frailties he's determined to correct.
"[Arthur] knows I can get across the line but I think quite a few people have picked out as well, something I really needed to work on was my defence so he's been drilling me with a bit of defence in pre-season. Not so much scoring tries but trying to stop tries as well," he said.
Last year was something of a baptism of fire for French, who debuted in a team wracked by injuries and other absences including salary cap-enforced departures and disciplinary suspensions yet helped his team to enough wins to have played finals football.
That experience will only breed more belief, according to French.
"That stuff is out of our control but we knew we were good enough to be there and we're certainly confident this year," he said.
"We're really pumped and ready to rip in and ready to go. It has been a long tough pre-season but I think it's brought us closer together, especially the tough sessions out there in the heat where we're pushing each other through it.
"One thing we've really focused on over the pre-season is just our defence and our attitude towards each other so we know we've got plenty of attack there but if we work hard for each other in defence I'm pretty sure we're going to have a good year."
As for his impending Indigenous All Stars debut, French is still amazed how quickly it has come about.
"I'm rapt; I'm so thankful for the opportunity," he said.
"It's only 12 months ago it all started for me at the Nines and it's something I didn't think would happen this quick. I only got the call up last week with a few people pulling out but I'm so thankful for the opportunity and I can't wait to rip in.
"It still hasn't sunk in just yet but it should be a good experience and I can't wait."