Eels’ long-term plan to keep NRL young gun Blaize-ing

Jasper Bruce |

Blaize Talagi made a sensational debut playing centre in the Eels’ round-three defeat of Manly.
Blaize Talagi made a sensational debut playing centre in the Eels’ round-three defeat of Manly.

Brad Arthur believes Blaize Talagi could one day succeed Clint Gutherson as Parramatta’s fullback as the teen star prepares for his first game as the Eels’ bench utility.

Only days after the Eels confirmed the signing of marquee back Zac Lomax, Arthur insisted off-contract Talagi was part of his side’s long-term plans.

Talagi had a sensational debut playing centre in the Eels’ round-three defeat of Manly, before being thrust into the halves a week later when Mitch Moses fractured his foot.

Back-to-back losses forced Arthur to rethink his halves combination, but the coach has recalled Talagi to his bench for Friday’s clash against the Dolphins in Darwin.

Talagi can cover the entire back-line so will bail the Eels out in the event of an injury, but the selection call runs deeper than that. 

“This is about giving him experiences that you can’t take back off him. (Young players) don’t get experience unless you give it to them,” Arthur said.

Parramatta coach Brad Arthur
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has long-term plans for talented teen Blaize Talagi. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

“It comes with its challenges because often they can come up with a big moment in a game, which is a negative moment and it costs you a game of footy. 

“That’s a risk that we’re prepared to take as a club and as a team because we know that, long-term, he’s got a future for us.”

Both Arthur and Talagi himself are working to determine where the young gun is best suited once he returns to the starting line-up.

Talagi spent time at centre and fullback in the pre-season, training in the latter position this week while Gutherson was rested.

He now has two games of NRL experience as a five-eighth, and for a time played lock in the Eels’ Under-16s side.

“(Talagi) is very keen on trying to see how he goes in the fullback role,” Arthur said.

“Often their best position is the position they like, and he likes fullback.”

Gutherson turns 30 this year and has no contract past 2025, but the captain appears unlikely ever to be forced out of an Eels side Arthur is coaching.

Talagi is out of contract himself at the end of the year but can trigger an option in his current deal to stay put for 2025.

He would be a tantalising prospect for rival clubs, particularly as Lomax’s arrival is set to create competition for spots in the back-line from next season.

But firm on keeping him at Parramatta, Arthur said Talagi could one day be the Eels’ fullback behind a Moses and Dylan Brown halves pairing.

“We’re not in hurry to replace Gutho because he’s our captain and we can’t win without him,” Arthur said.

“(But) Blaize is 19 and he’s got 15 years ahead of him, so he’s still got plenty of time to learn that role.

“I’m probably thinking that fullback long-term will probably suit him, especially in our team when you’ve got those two halves that are going to be there for a long, long time.”

Talagi has already impressed Brown, who was himself thrown into NRL at a young age after Corey Norman left the Eels for St George Illawarra.

“I’m excited for him to come in at 14 (against the Dolphins) because I feel like there’s less pressure, more chance for him to show X-factor,” Brown said.

“Wherever he comes on he’ll come on and he’ll do it well.”

AAP