It was the jumper reserved for the Hayne Plane, but now it’s likely to be worn by the French Connection.
Parramatta rookie Bevan French got a taste of life as an NRL fullback following a solid 20-minute stint behind the defensive line in Friday’s win over Manly.
The speed demon got the Eels off to a flyer against the Sea Eagles, burning some turf, as well as Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, in an eye-catching individual first half try off his wing.
However, his impact was also felt after the mid-game switch with Michael Gordon, when Manly forward Martin Taupau took French out with an off-the-ball tackle that result in Gordon’s game-winning penalty shot.
“He got me good. I’m glad I got the penalty for it and got the two points,” French said.
Gordon’s move to the Sydney Roosters at the end of the season has opened the door for French, along with the versatile Clinton Gutherson, to play in the No.1 next year.
But if his shift to the back is going to be a permanent one, French is adamant his support play needs to improve to the levels long displayed by the experienced Gordon.
“I need to do a bit more of it. I only done it for the last 20 minutes and I was out on my feet. `Flash’ does it for the full 80. It’s a big learning curve there. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
“His push is outstanding. That just comes with fitness. Hopefully another pre-season under my belt, I can get a bit more fitness and put myself on the ball a bit more.”
French’s surprise cameo at fullback comes in the same week prodigal son Hayne controversially spurned a move back to the blue-and-gold, despite a handshake agreement to return to the club two years ago.
The 20-year-old French said he had only met Hayne a couple of times prior to that.
“I only moved here 2-3 years ago and Jarryd was only here for a year. I was in SG ball,” French said.
“When I first moved down here and Jarryd was here, I was doing a pre-season in the -20s. All I was worried about getting my fitness up.
“I got to meet him once or twice, and was quite surprised how large and big he is. He was massive then and he still moves like a lightweight. It’s crazy.”
French said he is unsure whether he will experimented again at the back in the Eels’ next match against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
“Hopefully, I want to play fullback but we’ve got other people there as well that can do the job. It was a good experience for me,” he said.