Wests Tigers snare teen tyro Utoikamanu from Eels’ grasp
The Wests Tigers have snuck under the guard of Parramatta to steal one of the hottest young talents in the game on a three-year deal.
The Tigers have secured the services of hulking prop Stefano Utoikamanu from 2021 with one of the largest contracts for a player yet to make his NRL debut, understood to be worth around $800,000.
Parramatta were desperate to retain the 192cm, 115kg teenage sensation, who has drawn comparisons to Broncos sensation Payne Haas.
On the back of Ryan Matterson’s defection to the Eels, the Tigers have managed to land the major coup and are also expected to sign Dragons forward Luciano Leilua in the coming days.
It is understood the Tigers, who are also the frontrunners for Latrell Mitchell, want the Australian Schoolboys representative to join the club immediately to play for them in the NRL in 2020.
However, the Eels earmarked Utoikamanu, who grew up playing against the likes of Haas and David Fifita, to make his debut in 2020 and now have a decision to make whether to keep him at the club or let him link with the Tigers immediately.
NRL.com understands Utoikamanu, who is on a development contract with the Eels and is no guarantee of being bumped up into the NRL squad, stands to earn almost triple the original offer the Eels put to him midway through the year.
Stefano Utoikamanu in training with NSW under 20s in 2019.
Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos
The Eels raised their offer in recent weeks – and again on Thursday night in a desperate bid to hold on to him – however Utoikamanu had already reached a decision.
The strength of the Eels pack, with Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard starting up front, was also a factor – especially considering there are far fewer obstacles in front of him at the Tigers.
The Eels also have no shortage of depth in the front row, with NSW under 18s Origin front-rower Dave Hollis on their roster, as well as Sam Hughes, who was picked but missed the game due to suspension.
Tigers coach Michael Maguire is desperate to add some size and starch to his pack, and the signing of Utoikamanu, who represented the NSW under 20s last season, is sure to do that whenever he arrives at Concord.
Utoikamanu scored the match-winning try for NSW in a man-of-the-match performance in the under 18s Origin game last year, backing that up with 149 metres from 11 hit-ups for the Blues in the under 20s victory this year.