The tug-of-war between Parramatta and the Wests Tigers over the services of teenage sensation Stefano Utoikamanu has intensified after the Eels rejected an immediate request for a release.
NRL.com can reveal Parramatta intend to dig their heels in and keep the 192cm, 115kg prop at the club in 2020 despite a request to link with the Tigers immediately.
Still reeling from the news that the teenage sensation had rejected their extension to sign a three-year $800,000 deal with the Tigers from 2021, the Eels are adamant he won't be released from his final year at the club.
Utoikamanu is currently on a development contract with the Eels, but instead of being granted a release to play first grade at the Tigers, Parramatta have offered the 19-year-old a top 30 NRL position in 2020.
The Eels believe he can add value to the squad in 2020, and believe having him on their roster adds to their chances of success next season.
The 19-year-old, who has been likened to Brisbane's Payne Haas and is regarded as the most promising young player in next year's rookie class, is yet to accept the Eels' $70,000 offer.
Despite Utoikamanu's preference to depart immediately, Eels officials insist the NSW under 20s prop hasn't wavered in his commitment to the team and his dedication at training.
While there have been a number of players across the NRL in recent years who have caused a scene to gain a release, Utoikamanu has told the club he won't go down that path regardless of the outcome of negotiations.
However there is history between Utoikamanu's family and the club over the handling of a neck injury to his younger brother that prevented the club from retaining his services.
It's understood the history was a factor in negotiations.
The Eels have no shortage of front-rowers, with Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Kane Evans, Daniel Alvaro and Marata Niukore all at their disposal in 2020.
They also have high opinions of junior representative forwards Sam Hughes and Dave Hollis.
The Tigers aren't blessed with depth in the forwards and are expected to throw the youngster straight into the furnace to bolster their stocks should he be granted an unlikely release.
Utoikamanu, an Australian schoolboys representative, scored the match-winning try for NSW in a man-of-the-match performance in the under 18s Origin game last year, backing that up with 149 metres from 11 hit-ups for the Blues in the under 20s victory this year.