Jarryd Hayne has proven his versatility time and again – but where does he fit into the Parramatta squad for next season?
The 29-year-old played a variety of positions in his first tenure with the Eels, but with a loaded squad looking to improve on a pretty successful 2017 campaign, it’s not exactly clear where the prodigal son fits into Brad Arthur’s line-up.
Despite this being the position in which Hayne achieved the most success, it’s not a guarantee that he will be handed the number one jersey upon return. Bevan French is clearly a large part of the Eels’ plans for the future, but it was the 2017 form of Clint Gutherson that may prove the biggest obstacle for the returning Dally M winner.
Gutherson was one of the feel-good stories of the season, and like Hayne, can play a multitude of positions in the backline – but of games where he played fullback, the Eels won seven from nine, and four in a row at the back end of the season, before an ACL injury against the Wests Tigers ended his season.
We may well see Gutherson shuffled back to centre to accommodate Hayne, but there’s at least a discussion to be had that at this stage in their respective careers, it’s perhaps the returning Hayne who’d be better served elsewhere in the team.
There’s almost no chance this happens – but Hayne played a lot of games on the wing, winning the NRL’s rookie of the year award with the number two on his back, before locking down a flank for the Blues on 13 of his 23 State of Origin appearances, with a few for Australia sprinkled in.
It’s very unlikely that we’d see this, but with Semi Radradra leaving and a cautiousness towards not ruining the chemistry of what was already a very good rugby league team, it seems like this would be the least disruptive move Parramatta could make.
Lethal finisher: A young Jarryd Hayne on the wing for NSW. Photo: Darren Pateman
He doesn’t quite have as much speed or explosiveness that he had in his first stint with the club, but the skill as a pure finisher is still there – and he’d be a great bet for the NRL’s top try scorer award if they did end up sticking him out wide.
If he doesn’t play fullback, this seems the most likely secondary outcome – but also probably the least practical, given what we saw from Hayne in the centres since his return to the NRL.
He didn’t exactly set the world on first playing in the three-quarters for the Blues in this year’s State of Origin, and he really struggled to make an impact in his time there for the Titans, looking much more at home in his preferred role at the back.
Parramatta are short on outside backs, but you’d have to think that last year’s fullback Gutherson is the more likely man to make a positional switch – he looked better in the centres than Hayne did last year for their respective teams, and most would agree that the former San Francisco 49ers plays his best rugby league with the number one on his back.
Still, it’s a long season and even if it’s just a couple of appearances as a centre, we could well see Hayne play multiple positions.
Mixed bag: Hayne playing in the centres during the 2017 State of Origin series. Photo: AAP
Again, it’s a long shot. The Eels moved to bring Mitchell Moses into the fold mid-way through the 2017 season and the ex-Tiger played arguably the best footy of his career, not just for the blue and gold, but also for Lebanon in the World Cup. They also have Corey Norman in the halves, who was excellent last year, and has continued to impress under Arthur’s tutelage.
Hayne only spent about ten per cent of his time as an Eel the first time around in the six jersey, and played two games there for the Gold Coast in 2016, before not starting a game there at all this year.
Losing the kicking game of Moses or the overall game of Norman would be a massive detriment to the Eels chances of winning the premiership, and on top of that, you couldn’t really argue that either of those players could be re-shuffled to a different position to accommodate Hayne.
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