Clint Gutherson's selfless gesture to Blaize Talagi in bid to keep NRL young gun at Parramatta

Gutherson is prepared to vacate the No.1 jersey in order to keep Talagi at the Eels.

Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson says he will give up the fullback spot if it means the club can hang onto Blaize Talagi. The teenage sensation burst onto the scene with a barnstorming display in the Eels' narrow Round 3 win over the Sea Eagles earlier this year.

The performance caught the attention of the NRL world as Talagi showed his immense potential, and he topped off his debut by running over Manly star Tom Trbojevic to score a powerful try late on. It led Parramatta to push him to take up the extension option in his contract. However, the 19-year-old shunned the chance to do so, with his future beyond this year unclear.

Viewed as the Eels' long-term fullback - and a priority retention target - Talagi has scored nine tries in 11 games in his debut NRL season. In that time he has been somewhat of a 'Mr Fix It' for Parramatta, playing on the wing, in the centres, off the bench as a utility. But most notably and impressively he starred at fullback when Gutherson was out injured.

Pictured left Blaize Talagi and right Clint Gutherson
Clint Gutherson is prepared to give up the fullback role in order to keep Blaize Talagi at the Eels. Image: Getty

The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis previously reported that Talagi was waiting until the Eels decided on a coach before making a call on his future. But now with Jason Ryles confirmed as taking over in 2025 a crunch decision looms for the youngster.

The Dragons have reportedly been in communication with the young gun, with Zac Lomax going the other way to take one of the centre spots at the Eels. And it is believed that Parramatta may need to offer him the No.1 jersey to keep their top talent.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 19: Blaize Talagi of the Eels passes as he is tackled during the round 11 NRL match between Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium, on May 19, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Blaize Talagi is largely viewed as the long-term Eels fullback.

Ryles, who is currently an assistant to Craig Bellamy at the Melbourne Storm, has a plethora of contract decisions to make as he takes over Parramatta next season. Several of the Eels' top earners, including Gutherson, 30-year-old prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and crafty five-eighth Dylan Brown can speak to rival clubs come November 1.

But arguably there is no more pressing matter than for him to secure Talagi. And to help the incoming coach do just that Gutherson has stated he is willing to give up his fullback spot to convince the teen star to stay.

"Everyone is on notice now, which is exciting as well, but we're going to have to sort of have a big change going into pre-season, and I'm sure a lot will change," Gutherson said. "I couldn't care less (where I play), I've said it my whole career.

"I just love playing, whether it's off the bench, on the wing, anywhere. I just love playing footy, and from the get-go, I've always said I'll move if the coach thinks it's right. That's another thing for the new staff to come in and sort of make a decision on. There are a lot of older boys there who might get a tap on the shoulder, might not, it's just the way it is, and you have to deal with it. I'm no different to every other player here - if they want me to move position, I'm more than happy to."

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Gutherson said he expects Ryles will make mass changes when he takes over the NRL strugglers. Arthur favoured a power game that was heavily reliant on their forwards making big metres through the middle before then handing it over to the likes of him, Mitchell Moses and Brown to create something in attack close to the line. But with Arthur gone and the Eels without a distinctive style anymore, Gutherson believes Ryles will shake things up.

"I think we do (need to modernise). We've missed the finals last year and we're sitting at the wrong end again this year," Gutherson said. "The results probably speak for themselves that we do need to change our style because we haven't been playing finals footy.

"The game changes a lot, very quickly, year-to-year, and if you don't adjust and don't change it you get left behind, and that could be the reason for the last couple of years."

with AAP