Eels back French and Gutherson for key roles
Eels coach Brad Arthur has no qualms about leaning on a pair of rookie playmakers in Bevan French and Clint Gutherson to help guide his team in 2017 alongside star halfback Corey Norman.
The club has not splashed out on another high-profile playmaker to replace the departed Kieran Foran, instead backing fullback Clint Gutherson to continue his evolution into a five-eighth.
Gutherson improved rapidly in the role after being thrust into it for the back end of last year and at the moment is ahead of veteran Jeff Robson, promising youngster Troy Dargan (who he combined with in the halves for Saturday's trial) and Burleigh Bears recruit Jamal Fogarty in the pecking order.
The 21-year-old French will be in his preferred position of fullback and despite his obvious talent is still inexperienced, with 13 NRL games. Arthur will need both to hit the ground running, along with Norman, if the Eels are to be a force in 2017.
Despite some scrappiness on the night and a lack of polish at the end of attacking sets – which could be largely attributed to the club keeping Corey Norman's hamstring in cotton wool – there were positive signs. French chimed in well at times, lofting a perfect chip for Semi Radradra that earned a repeat set but could have been a try, breaking the line several times and scoring a nice try of his own.
"Yeah, he went good," Arthur said of French, who hasn't trialled with the team yet due to his selection with the Indigenous All Stars, but was arguably his team's best in the 18-6 loss.
"We had young 'Dargs' (Dargan) playing his first game in the halves there for us and Gutho is still learning his trade. We had no Corey Norman and it was Bev's first proper hit-out with us.
"There's plenty for us to work on, especially the execution with our attack wasn't what we were after tonight but we wanted to be physical and make sure our effort was there defensively.
"[French] will be fine, we're backing him the same as we're backing Gutho. Once we put Normy in there we'll be right.
"[Gutherson] is a competitor and that's what we're basing it on. We've got boys in there that want to compete."
The most pleasing part for Arthur was the highly physical nature of the trial, particularly in the forwards, and the fact the team didn't pick up any injuries other than a very minor ankle injury to co-captain Beau Scott who isn't considered in doubt for Round 1.
"We wanted to get a couple of things out of [the trial] in terms of our effort and our physicality and I thought for 60 minutes both teams traded blows," Arthur said.
"A lot of the attack was scrappy from both sides but both teams really went at each other and defensively I thought both sides were good. They had a point to prove and so did we. I think at the 60-minute mark it was 6-all."
Arthur pulled his NRL side off the park after 60 minutes with the majority of the Wentworthville Magpies side finishing the game, with Penrith putting on two late tries to seal the result.
"Trials are hard, you want to wrap them in cotton wool and get them off the field which we did at the back end but we got what we needed to get out of it and I'm sure they did too," he added.
The blue and gold forwards were mostly very good, with Manu Ma'u and Tepai Moeroa particularly impressive. Reassuringly, new recruits Nathan Brown, Suaia Matagi and Frank Pritchard were also among the team's best.
"They were good but remember that's their first hit-out with our boys," Arthur said of the recruits.
"You can train and train as much as you like and get them fit as you like but until they’ve got some match fitness and some combinations on the field, there was nothing easy coming for them out there tonight in terms of Penrith's defence.
"I wouldn't say one team in the middle got on top of the other, I think they both did really well and got some game time into them."
Parramatta also has another new recruit in former Manly prop Siosaia Vave coming back from a shoulder injury and suspended forward Peni Terepo to come back into the mix to pressure the top side as well.