Andrew Johns vindicated as Eels and Tigers hit new lows: Good, bad, ugly of NRL Round 17

Will Pryce starred on debut for Newcastle after a spat between the Johns brother and coach Adam O'Brien.

😃 The good: Will Pryce's brilliant debut after Andrew Johns call

😔 The bad: Stefano Utoikamanu delivers new blow to Wests Tigers

😡 The ugly: Parramatta dragging their feet over next NRL coach

Andrew Johns resisted the urge to tell Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien "I told you so" after Will Pryce's stunning debut for the Knights in Saturday's vital win over Parramatta. But he must have felt like it after being fully vindicated in his assessment of the young Englishman.

After the Knights' round 13 loss to Canterbury, Johns said: "They have to put Will Pryce in next week. There might be deficiencies in his game, but they have to do something." O'Brien responded: "I think Will's still learning the game out here to be honest. I don't know how many games Joey has watched of NSW Cup, but he (Pryce) hasn't had many back-to-back good ones."

Will Pryce and Bradman Best.
Will Pryce celebrates with Bradman Best after Newcastle's win over Parramatta. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

That brought a rebuke from Matthew Johns, who told O'Brien: "Adam, it's Joey Johns. The name's on the grandstand. Heed the advice. When Andrew Johns talks, people listen."

When the coach finally did listen, he was rewarded with an outstanding performance from debutant Pryce and halves partner Jackson Hastings. They tore the Eels part in a terrific Newcastle display.

"Will Pryce complements the way Jackson Hastings plays and it showed (on Saturday night) the way they played as a team," Joey said after the victory. "He's only going to get better and better. He's raw but geez he's a player. He's got some swagger. It was a great performance. He's a player and a half. They’re the halves move moving forward, without a doubt."

The Wests Tigers probably had no choice but to grant restless prop Stefano Utoikamanu permission to talk to rival clubs as he considers his next career move. But they should be nervous – very nervous.

As if their thrashing by the Roosters on Sunday was not bad enough, reports the Melbourne Storm have entered the race for the representative front-rower made it a weekend to forget for the joint venture club. The Tigers feel they can offer as much, if not more, than two other interested parties - St George Illawarra and Canberra - officially in the chase for Utoikamanu.

Stefano Utoikamanu.
Stefano Utoikamanu in action for the Wests Tigers against the Roosters. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

But the Storm are a whole different ball game. Utoikamanu has made it clear a decision on where he lands in 2025 is based more on winning premierships and taking his game to the next level than cold hard cash.

There is nothing to suggest the Dragons or Raiders will be fighting for titles anytime soon. As for Melbourne, they are always at the pointy end of the table and the Storm playing finals footy every year is the safest bet in the game.

Their pitch will be professional, powerful and persuasive. The chance to be coached by the legendary Craig Bellamy and surround himself with representative-quality players may be an opportunity Utoikamanu simply can't pass up.

Parramatta were brave and committed in going down by eight points to Newcastle on Saturday. With a touch more luck and a 50-50 call here or there, the Eels may have returned down the M1 with the two competition points.

But they don't give out prizes for trying hard. The stark reality is it was another loss for the blue and golds. They have dropped four of their five games since punting coach Brad Arthur and sit rock bottom of the table.

The wooden spoon remains a distinct possibility. So with all this going on, why on earth is it taking so long to employ a new coach for 2025?

Parramatta players, pictured here during their loss to the Newcastle Knights.
Parramatta players look on during their loss to the Newcastle Knights. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Everyone knows who's on their shortlist – it's a three-way battle between Jason Ryles, Josh Hannay and Dean Young – so what's the hold up? Parramatta powerbrokers say the Origin period and club commitments have made catch-ups with the candidates difficult, but Arthur was sacked on May 20 – a lifetime ago in rugby league terms.

Every week that ticks by without a decision just makes it that little bit harder for the bloke they eventually go with. Planning and roster shaping for the next season is vital for a club running last and all of that is on hold at the Eels. Just look at Wayne Bennett and the work he's been doing ahead of his return to Souths. Hurry up, Parra.

Check back in every Monday throughout the NRL season for Adam Lucius' 'Good, Bad and Ugly' column.