French's continued rapid rise
Exciting Eels fullback Bevan French continued his rapid rise from promising rookie to match-breaking NRL fullback with another polished performance in his team's 34-16 win over the Dragons on Sunday evening.
French's slick WIN Stadium outing included a lovely inside ball for Semi Radradra's fourth try and a wonderful piece of deception and evasion when he threw several dummies to streak through the Red V right-side defence almost untouched and score.
Speaking about his try, French revealed it was a set play that creates a wealth of support options including left edge winger Radradra and left edge back-rower Manu Ma'u, putting defences in two minds.
"We've been working on that play for quite a while now – I usually have 'Bula' (Radradra) or a second rower dropping under," French said.
"We had a look at it last week and I think there was an opportunity to keep running myself so it's a very good play, we've got quite a few options we can choose from off the play and we'll continue to run that."
Of his own development, French said he was feeling increasingly comfortable in first grade and benefited from being eased in via the wing last year, with the chance to learn from veteran fullback Michael Gordon an added benefit.
"I just keep looking to improve each game. It's going to be very tough week in week out on the body and physically," he said.
"I felt pretty comfortable and [fullback is] my preferred position. Hopefully I can keep learning new things and keep getting better.
"[Last year] was a big confidence boost. It blooded me in to becoming a fullback.
"Even though it was on the wing it took its toll on my body, I wasn't used to the physical side of things so I didn't want to get thrown in the deep end straight away.
"I worked my way through there and as the season went on got used to the contact and the speed of the game. This year at fullback it's another step up and during the pre-season we worked really hard on that. It's a challenge but I love the challenge and hopefully I can keep getting better."
One of the most promising signs for Eels fans is the combination between French and the rest of the spine. Halfback Corey Norman has been in rare touch despite being still short on match fitness, Clint Gutherson has improved out of sight as his halves partner and Kaysa Pritchard is benefiting from a solid run as a starting No.9.
"That was a talking point form an outsider's perspective – everyone was saying the spine have [spent very little] time together and we weren't very experienced but we've been working really hard on it during the pre-season and we did a bit last year as well," French said.
"What makes it easier is the brotherhood there at the club, everyone's close together, it's a tight bond and it makes the job a lot easier."
Coach Brad Arthur was happy with the progress of both French and Norman but cautioned each remains a work in progress.
"[French] is a talent," Arthur said.
"I thought we managed him okay last year, we didn't throw him straight in. We played him on the wing and let him get a bit of confidence. 'Flash' (Gordon) was good for him helping him out.
"His teammates have been really good for Bev. He's a good level-headed kid and he wants to get better. He'll give us every opportunity."
Arthur reiterated that Norman was still returning to match fitness.
"On the back of what our forwards have provided for him at the moment he is getting the ball in good situations and he's just shown a real level of patience and maturity. He sticks to the plan really well," Arthur said.
"Especially in the first half when he played fast and really went at them he looked dangerous all the time. He's going to get better and better as he gets in a better position.
"We're game two into a developing spine with Kaysa there and Bev. We've still got a fair bit of work to do there."