Parramatta Eels co-captain Clint Gutherson has dodged speculation that the club’s premiership window is closing but admits 2022 will be a “a big year” for the drought-stricken Eels.
Under Brad Arthur’s watch, the Eels have finished in the top eight in four of the last five seasons only to be knocked out in the second week of the finals on each occasion.
After the 2022 season, Parramatta’s roster will undergo major changes that have the potential to destabilise a premiership tilt – regular first-graders Reed Mahoney, Isaiah Papali’i, Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi have all signed contracts elsewhere.
Mahoney, a defensive linchpin for the Eels, and Papali’i, one of the league’s most improved players last season, loom as particularly big losses for the club, which hasn’t tasted premiership glory since 1986.
Gutherson said it was a shame to be losing key players but did not engage with speculation that 2022 would be the Eels’ last chance to seize the Provan-Summons trophy for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously, it’s a big year,” said Gutherson, who signed a contract extension in November. “It’s sad to see those players go, but players have got to do what they need to do for their career and what they’re trying to achieve.”
“Whoever comes in the next couple of years is going to do their job. There’s always more players out there,” he said.
“As I said, this group’s been together for a numbers of years now and we’ve got one goal and one goal only.”
Gutherson said the 2022 pre-season had been like any other – belief is strong and expectations are high.
“It’s the same as every year, the expectations are high. They always are at this club,” Gutherson said.
“Obviously, we’ve been close the last few years but just not good enough. We’ve got the squad there that’s been here for three or four years now.
“Every team comes out of pre-season thinking they can win it, but you have to go out there and show it.”
Parramatta’s sole captain in 2021, Gutherson will share leadership duties with NSW Origin prop Junior Paulo this season.
Gutherson said he was pleased Paulo had been entrusted with the co-captaincy.
“It’s exciting times,” Gutherson said.
“With two there now, we can spread it out and make it easier on each other.
“He’s going to be up front, he’s going to play a lot of minutes in the middle and take control of that middle.
“It’s not going to change too much about what he does as a player, it’s only going to help him grow as a person, as a player and as a leader.”