NRL legend Cooper Cronk admits he's been left baffled by reports Parramatta are looking to recruit an ‘X-factor’ player that could replace co-captain Clint Gutherson at fullback. The league world was shocked when the reports broke over the weekend, with Gutherson understood to have given his blessing for Parramatta to strengthen the side, potentially at his expense.
According to the SMH report from Michael Chammas, Gutherson gave the club his blessing to chase a player who would enhance their NRL premiership credentials. The move doesn’t necessarily mean Gutherson will be dethroned at fullback, but is aimed at giving the Eels more firepower across the park, after they fell short in last year's grand final against back-to-back premiers, Penrith.
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Speaking on NRL 360 on Monday night, Cronk could not fathom why the Eels would even be considering shifting Gutherson from No.1 after describing him as "one of the elite fullbacks" in the NRL. “X-factor might score you a try or two, but Clint Gutherson will save you three or four,” Cronk said.
“Like that’s just... he’s one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game, I think his work rate is through the roof and you have X-factor with Brown and Moses in your halves combination “I find this really strange, considering it is Gutherson who is elite, he’s your captain and having an honest conversation about bringing X-factor, I find it crazy.”
One school of thought around the Gutherson move is that he could potentially be shifted to the centres, to provide the Eels with another layer of attacking threat in their backline. Gutherson has played in the centres for NSW at State of Origin level, albeit with limited success. The Eels could also potentially keep Gutherson at fullback and use an X-factor recruit in a utility role off the bench.
Fellow league great Billy Slater - who is also regarded as one of the greatest fullbacks to play the game - also admitted he "couldn't believe" the reports coming out of Parramatta. “I think Clint Gutherson is one of the best fullbacks in the game,” Slater said on Channel Nine.
“Sometimes we look at the shiny, bright stuff that the fullbacks can do, and Gutherson adds so much more to that team than the bright, shiny stuff. I look at that position and think, ‘Can that team win a competition with that player at fullback?’ And I can see that with Clint Gutherson. So I can’t believe that they would be looking elsewhere.”
Eels linked with Gold Coast's Jayden Campbell
On Monday night, Chammas added more fuel to his original report by claiming on Channel Nine's 100% Footy that the Eels had identified Gold Coast speedster Jayden Campbell as the X-factor player they could move for. The revelation from Chammas left former Cronulla premiership legend Paul Gallen in disbelief.
"Young Campbell?" Gallen asked. "Is he as good as Gutho? I'm not saying you're not right, but I just can't believe it.
"I mean, he's (Gutherson is) 28 turning 29. He's still got another two or three years at his peak. I mean, between 28 and 32 is probably where you're at your peak.
"And I mean, let's think about the top-notch fullbacks out there. We're talking about Latrell Mitchell, Turbo (Tom Trbojevic), (James) Tedesco and maybe (Ryan) Papenhuyzen. They're not leaving their clubs. Their clubs are not letting them go."
Gutherson has been at Parramatta since 2016 and has formed a familiar combination with halves Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown. He led the Eels to the grand final in 2022, however they were blown off the park by a red-hot Penrith Panthers side, going down 28-12.
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