Eels utility Smith rises amid injury crisis
Parramatta Eels utility Will Smith is set to go from super sub to saving grace as the club battles an injury crisis and the prospect of a losing month to start the 2018 season.
Star signing Jarryd Hayne will be out for at least a fortnight with a hip flexor injury, while fellow fullback Bevan French is considered a 50-50 chance of lining up in Easter Monday's crunch clash with Wests Tigers due to a shoulder injury.
Smith looms as the Eels most likely option at the back if French is scratched given Clint Gutherson is still recovering from an ACL rupture.
The 25-year-old has proved to be a handy utility since arriving at Parramatta in late-2016, overcoming a horrific knee injury of his own that had rival clubs doubting whether he would run again, much less adding to his NRL career after three years at Penrith.
Eels skipper Tim Mannah lauded Smith's rise after coming to career crossroads - which resulted in Parramatta recently extending his contract through to 2020 - and backed him to excel at fullback having done so in last year's finals.
"The thing that stands out for me when I think of Will is he's a real composed character," Mannah said on Monday during the Eels' visit to Westmead Children's Hospital.
"He never really gets too fancy, he's the kind of player you need to have in the team and he'll do a job for us.
"We bought him as he was still in rehab and still recovering, and we got to see the amount of work that went into his rehab and recovery.
"Not knowing him back then, I got to learn a lot about him over that time. I realised we had a really good athlete on our hands.
"He's really strong in the gym, he's really quick, he's fit, he moves well, athletically he's a freak. It's handy to have people like that in our team who can slot in anywhere.
"If Jarryd's out, if Bevan's out, we've got people that can step up and fill the role."
The Eels and Canberra Raiders are the only sides that remain winless three weeks into the season, in a year considered one of Parramatta's best chances to end an infamous 32-year premiership drought.
While they came from a 2-4 start last year to play finals for the first time since 2009, the Eels take little comfort from the statistic.
Of more concern to Brad Arthur's side is the 41 missed tackles they've averaged in three losses this season.
The 54-0 blowout loss to Manly accounted for 50 of those, with lock Nathan Brown admitting their defensive performances have stung the Parramatta forward pack given it was their pride and joy in 2017.
"We've leaked way too many points this season," Brown said.
"I thought we took a step in the right direction on the weekend (in a 14-4 loss to the Sharks), I thought our defence wasn't too bad.
"So we've got to build on that next Monday. We take full responsibilities us middles, we've got to be on for the backs to jump on the back of it."