Eels' French unlikely to face Storm
Parramatta's top-four finish and guaranteed passage to the second week of the 2017 Telstra Premiership finals has further shortened the odds fullback Bevan French will give his troublesome right hamstring an extra week's recovery.
The speedy 21-year-old sat out Round 23 after tweaking the hamstring, before returning in Round 24 and being forced off at half time after re-injuring it.
French said that while his rehabilitation was on track, it was not the time of year to take risks that could delay his recovery by another few weeks.
"I'm up to date with everything at the moment but I think we're at that part of the season that you want to be smart rather than sorry," French told NRL.com.
The 22-16 win over the Rabbitohs on Friday night ensures the fourth-placed Eels will travel to Melbourne next week to face the red-hot, ladder-leading Storm. An unlikely win in a game where few will give them a chance of upsetting the competition favourites would bank a week off and a ticket straight to a Grand Final qualifier.
However even a loss would see them progress to the second week to host the winner of one of the elimination finals (which at this stage could be any of Cronulla, Penrith, Manly, North Queensland or St George Illawarra), and French is more optimistic of taking part in that game.
"The smart choice is to have that extra week off," he continued.
"I'm doing everything I can to be ready for [Melbourne] next week and want to be ready as soon as possible but if we have the second chance behind us there the smarter decision will probably be to have the extra week."
Speaking after the Eels win, coach Brad Arthur was hopeful rather than confident of having his fleet-footed fullback available.
"Bevan and Peni [Terepo] are touch and go [for next week]," Arthur said.
"We won't probably know until the back end of the week but we're hopeful of Bevan and Peni Terepo being okay."
The urgency over French's return is alleviated somewhat by the encouraging form of stand-in custodian Will Smith who, until French's hamstring tweak, was largely being used to fill in at dummy-half and occasionally the halves (in Round 13 he made a personal season-high 41 tackles at hooker when Kaysa Pritchard went off injured).
In the past month of footy covering French's injury Smith has three tries, two try assists and 15 tackle busts. On Friday night against Souths he ran for a season-high 118 metres.
"He's one of those players, same as Gutho [Clint Gutherson], you chuck him in anywhere and he does his job. It's pretty crazy to think he was playing dummy-half and now he's back at fullback," French said of the current Eels No.1.
"He's one of those players who's got so much versatility. He's a natural footballer, you saw the week before [in scoring two tries against Gold Coast] he's very strong and got great footwork as well.
"He's not a big guy but he's one of the strongest in the gym and it shows out on the field, he puts so much work into that side of things and he's a good player to have in your squad, he can chime in anywhere."