I don't look at the number on my back: Gutherson
One of the big conundrums facing the Eels this year is drawing closer: what to do with game-breaker and fan-favourite Clint Gutherson when all three top-line halves are fit.
After his match-winning performance against the Warriors, what is plainly clear is the cult hero must be in the Eels' starting 13 somewhere.
In the third club game of new halfback Mitch Moses, it was instead the utility playmaker who stood tall and took control of the game in the frantic dying stages of the 32-24 win, commanding the ball, kicking perfectly into touch when needed, settling the team down then ploughing over himself for the game-sealing try in the final minute.
"I just want to do my best for the team wherever I'm playing and if that's leading the boys or yelling at someone, it's what it's going to be," Gutherson deflected when asked about his burgeoning leadership after the game.
"Mitchy was doing his part of the team and I was doing my side. It just worked out well that we did it."
Gutherson has improved out of sight as a playmaker in 2017, in his first full year in the role after deputising there out of necessity last season. His goal-kicking – coach Brad Arthur wasn't even sure who to give the duty to a few months ago – has quickly gone from liability to game-winning as well.
The former Sea Eagle was capable of missing from near in front just three months ago. On Friday, the injury-ravaged Eels needed every point against a late-surging Warriors and the fact they kept going up in increments of six points courtesy of three laser-like sideline conversions from Gutherson proved critical.
"I've got a kicking coach at training, his name's Hilly, he's been big for me," Gutherson said.
"He just said keep doing what I'm doing and it's going to get better. I think it showed [on Friday] I was hitting them well and it's a big part of the game these days, if you miss one it could cost you the game.
Gutherson's 16-point haul took him 10 points clear of Rooster Michael Gordon atop the point-scoring leader board for the season with 104 after 13 games (though Gordon on 94 and Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop on 87 each have a game in hand this weekend).
In a big Round 2 win over the Dragons he kicked just three goals from seven attempts; Friday night's perfect six from six took his season tally to 38 from 51 at almost 75 per cent.
"I'll take responsibility, if I miss one and we lose it's my fault, it's my job in the team and I have to get them over," was Gutherson's simple philosophy. The fact that he has so far kept Moses – who kicked at 82 per cent through 10 games for Wests Tigers before his mid-season switch – away from goal-kicking duties speaks volumes about Gutherson's improvement and maturity.
Moses is the man who could theoretically bump Gutherson out of the five-eighth role when Norman returns but Gutherson wasn't fazed about what will happen when Norman returns as soon as next week.
"I'll still do what I've been doing, I'll float around and if we keep winning and keep going forward that's the best thing for the team and the club," he said.
"I don't really look at the number on my back, I just do what I'm going to do for the team."
Arthur has repeatedly described Gutherson as someone who is just "a footy player" rather than pigeon-holing him into a position and had plenty of praise for his game-breaker after the match.
"He's just a footballer. He's a genuine footballer. He's very committed, he wants to make something out of his career," Arthur said.
"He's just a competitor. He wants to win. That's how he trains. You don't train like that and not play like that. He gives himself every chance every weekend to be one of our better players."
Arthur also wasn't giving too much away in regards to how his three playmakers would fit in when Norman returns, hinting that the mounting injury toll would open up enough spots for them all to feature.
"I just lost a couple so we'll just throw them out there; they'll fill somewhere," Arthur said.
"It doesn't matter where I play Gutho, he'll still do his same job."