Battle for fullback spot wide open at Eels
Injured utility Clint Gutherson has brushed away talk of Jarryd Hayne's possible return to the Parramatta Eels to focus on his own quest to wear the blue and gold's No.1 jersey in 2018.
The 23-year-old was quizzed at the club's announcement of property development and construction company Aland as its new major sponsor on Wednesday about whether the Eels should welcome Hayne back if he gains a release from the Gold Coast Titans.
Rather than focus on the disgruntled Fijian representative, Gutherson was adamant teammate Bevan French was his only rival for the position.
"Who knows what is happening there, it's got nothing to do with me," Gutherson said.
"It's [up to] the club and what he wants to do. He's still a Titan as it stands so I'm not paying any interest in that.
"[Brad Arthur] hasn't spoken to me and it's not a conversation we need to have until it's done."
Gutherson said his battle with French for the fullback spot would ignite over the pre-season. There is a spot available in the Eels backline following the loss of dynamic winger Semi Radradra to French rugby union.
Gutherson and French shared the fullback duties in 2017 with French (13 games) starting the season at the back until knee and hamstring injuries hampered his finish to the season.
"We keep pushing each other each day and whoever gets it will do a job, the other will hopefully be in the team somewhere," Gutherson said.
"It makes a good team. If you're not fighting for your spot you get too comfortable and slacken off."
Gutherson proved the ultimate replacement to accommodate French's injuries with seven tries in nine games. Disaster then struck when the Cromer junior suffered his second ACL injury in three seasons.
"I'm focused on getting the knee right," Gutherson said.
"I knew straight away when I done it. The physio ran out and I said 'I've done my ACL' and he said 'get back in the line'. The pain goes away and you can run. You hear a couple of pops and a snap. It's not the best noise you want to hear.
"I hate not training and being out there with the boys, that's the only thing that gets you down."
The former Sea Eagle was confident of being fit for Parramatta's 2018 opening round clash with Western Sydney rivals Penrith on March 11.
"I'm pushing for it but we'll just take it slow," Gutherson said. "There are still a few months before we even start looking to touch a ball.
"I started straight line [running], it's starts off slow. The first month [injured] was hard, it's always when you're by yourself that you start thinking about stuff.
"[But] it's such a small part of your life, rugby league, that you've got to look at the positives and live your normal life."
Parramatta's straight-sets exit in the finals series continues to burn for the squad, who returned to pre-season training last week.
Gutherson is hoping a five-year wait to make a finals appearance ends in 2018.
"You play rugby league to play in the finals and go all the way," he said.
"To not be out there and helping in any way possible was hard but you just have to move on."