Eels speedster Bevan French says he is not viewing his shift from fullback to wing last weekend as a demotion and instead simply had to praise the electric form of teammate Clint Gutherson, with the Eels simply better the more Gutherson gets the ball.
The mid-season recruitment of Mitch Moses from Wests Tigers has pushed Gutherson out of the halves and the return from injury of Michael Jennings left a conundrum for coach Brad Arthur as to how he fit everyone into the team.
With wingers Josh Hoffman and Kirisome Auva’a out injured, the Round 15 solution was to move French to wing and Gutherson to fullback.
"You can’t really get down in the dumps about it," French said after scoring a try in the 24-10 win on Sunday.
"Gutho’s doing an outstanding job at the back there and it’s what’s best for the team."
French’s immediate challenge is to hold onto his spot when Hoffman and Auva’a are available after the Round 16 bye.
"It’s a good chance to get back out on the wing, it’s good fun to be back out there. I think it was a bit of an improvement from last year playing out there defence-wise so I was happy with it," French said.
The speedster said he did not view the move as any sort of demotion.
"Sometimes you’ve just got to take your hat off when someone’s doing a better job and Gutho’s been outstanding every time he’s been at the back so I don’t really see it as a demotion," he said.
While French was electric in attack last year from the wing in his debut season his defence was a concern. Twelve months on, a slightly heavier French has put hours of work into his defence and used it to stunning effect in not only shutting down a few Dragons attacking raids but making a statement and forcing errors that put the Eels on the attack.
"I really wanted to improve on [my defence] from last year. I copped a bit of criticism last year defence-wise playing on the wing and like I said we’ve got a lot of depth there with Hoffy and Kirisome to come back in so if I want to stay in the team I need to stay on my A-game," he said.
He remains driven to reclaim the fullback role but insists it doesn’t need to be in the short term.
"I’m only 21 years old, I’ve got a number of years ahead of me. If not this year (to return to fullback), next year. I’ve still got a few more pre-seasons [to come]," French said.
"I think I’ll be better strength wise, hopefully get a bit bigger. I don’t really see it as a demotion but hopefully in the future, in the next couple of years I’ll be back at fullback. At the moment I have to take my hat off to Gutho, he’s doing an outstanding job."
While French has bulked up slightly from last year he is cautious about building his weight too quickly.
"I’ve put on a few [kilograms] but I don’t want to put on too much too quick because my speed is my biggest attribute at the moment. Hopefully I just want to put that on in the smart way, put it on slowly and lean muscle more than a bit of fat," he said.
Sunday’s win kept the Eels within touching distance of the top eight – they are level with eighth-placed Penrith but trail on for-and-against and are just a win behind the sixth-placed Dragons.
With two byes to come (Parramatta is the only club yet to have a bye) and some winnable games over the coming rounds, French said not only a top-eight finish but even a top-four billing were still realistic goals.
"We’ve got a bye next week then a bye in another few weeks so it’s a really big few weeks for us. If we can keep improving and grinding I think we’ll be very hard to stop," he said.
"We spoke earlier on the week about the next few weeks, how we can come away with a fair few points. We had Dragons without [Josh] Dugan [due to Origin], we’ve got Storm with their Origin players out [in Round 18] and two byes in there so it’s a big few weeks for us."