Eels coach Brad Arthur says the door is ajar for Blake Ferguson to return to first grade despite the winger being overlooked in favour of a debutant this week.
The veteran has been relegated to playing Knock On Effect NSW Cup for the past fortnight but many expected him to reclaim his NRL spot after Fijian flanker Maika Sivo copped a high-tackle suspension.
Instead, Arthur picked uncapped 19-year-old Sean Russell to face the 15th-placed Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday.
There had been talk even before the season that Ferguson, who is uncontracted beyond 2021, was on the outer, but Arthur denied the 31-year-old had already played his last game in blue and gold.
Defensive problems were seen as the cause of Ferguson's demotion.
"Fergo's one of a couple of blokes that aren't in the team this week; we made a couple of changes," Arthur said on Saturday.
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"Those players are aware of what it is that we need them to keep working at. It would be unprofessional for me to discuss that.
"Team selection is a week-to-week proposition and this week that's what we've gone with. Team selection is purely my decision.
"It comes back to me. All responsibility falls on my shoulders, not the players, not the assistant coaches - me and me only. It's a week-to-week proposition. We've got a bye next week and then we go into the Panthers so I'll worry about that next week.
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"At the moment, what I'm worried about is the 17 blokes that are committed to the game tomorrow against a Dogs team that is on the improve. We know exactly what we're going to get from them.
"All [Ferguson] can do is train well, play well and he doesn't control anything else outside of that," Arthur later added.
Russell has been rewarded having scored eight tries in 12 games for Parramatta's third-placed feeder team this season.
The youngster was part of the support crew that travelled to Suncorp Stadium in Magic Round and cheered on Arthur's son Jakob as the playmaker marked his first-grade debut with a win over the Warriors.
Coach Arthur anticipates that his troops will be fired up to ensure Sunday's match is memorable for Russell and bench hooker Nathaniel Roache, who will don an Eels NRL jersey for the first time.
Roache, formerly with the Warriors, hasn't played at the top level since round 15 in 2019 due to knee, ankle and soft-tissue issues.
"He's had a real tough couple of years with injuries and his body. He's been really patient and worked hard through the pre-season, put 11 or 12 games back-to-back at [NSW] Cup level," Arthur said.
"He's another one who the boys will want to play well for."
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