The Wests Tigers have flown under the radar and signed exciting prospect Stefano Utoikamanu from Parramatta’s grasp, according to NRL.com.
The 19-year has reportedly signed a three-year deal from 2021 to be one of the biggest contracts for a player who is yet to debut in the NRL, with the deal said to be worth around $800,000 in total.
Parramatta tried to retain the teenager, who has drawn comparisons to Broncos enforcer Payne Haas.
The Tigers have landed this coup and are also set to sign Dragons forward Luciano Leilua in the coming days.
The Tigers are also the front-runners to sign Latrell Mitchell, but want Utoikamanu to join the club immediately and play for them in 2020.
The Eels planned to feature Utoikamanu and make his debut in 2020, but now have a decision to make whether to keep him at the club or let him move to the Tigers immediately.
Utoikamanu was no guarantee of being bumped into the Eels’ NRL squad as a development player, and now looks set to earn triple what the Eels initially put forward to him midway through the year.
The Eels have raised their bids recently, but Utoikamanu had already made up his mind on where he wanted to play.
The Eels have a strong pack with Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard starting up front and that was a contributing factor into Utoikamanu choosing the Tigers, as there would be fewer options in front of him.
The Eels also have no shortage of depth in the front row, with NSW under 18’s Origin front-rower Dave Hollis also on the roster, as well as Sam Hughes.
Tigers coach Michael Maguire has been desperate to add some size and strength to his pack, and the signing of Utoikamanu is sure to bring just that to the club.
Utoikamanu scored the match-winning try for NSW in a man-of-the-match performance in the under 18’s Origin game last year, and then backed that up with 149 metres from 11 hit-ups in the under 20’s victory this year.