Eels move to lock in last puzzle piece
PARRAMATTA are determined to lock up hooker Reed Mahoney and the feeling is mutual - the Queensland Maroons prospect believing "something special" is in the air at the club.
The Eels are in advanced negotiations with the rising star, who is off contract at the end of this year, and the two parties met again last week.
They will be wanting to avoid any protracted negotiations because a strong showing at the start of the season will bump up Mahoney's price and ignite interest from rival clubs.
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Weighing heavily in Parramatta's favour is Mahoney's preference to remain at the Western Sydney powerhouse.
He is also the last piece in Parramatta's spine puzzle after the club re-signed fullback Clint Gutherson and halfback Mitchell Moses until the end of 2022, as well as five-eighth Dylan Brown until the 2023 season is completed.
"Dly [Brown] signed just before Christmas and Mitchy [Moses] and Gutho [Gutherson] have signed for a few years so I want to stay here in this spine because I think we can create something really special," Mahoney said.
"Our spine has built a lot of trust and we back each other. We are gelling well too.
"If someone wants to go for a play then we back each other to do that. We just have to keep moving forward and working on getting ever better, not only as a group but individually."
Losing Mahoney, who made his NRL debut for the Eels in 2018, would be a massive blow for the club on the back of boom forward and local junior Stefano Utoikamanu defecting to the Wests Tigers from 2021.
There is also speculation that outside back Ethan Parry could be on the move.
Mahoney has been earmarked as a potential long-term No.9 for the Maroons and spent last weekend in a pre-season Origin camp in Brisbane.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters is yet to settle on a hooking replacement for Maroons great Cameron Smith, who retired from Origin in 2018.
He has used Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough in the position but also views Mahoney, 21, as a viable option, while the Sydney Roosters' three-time premiership-winning hooker Jake Friend is also in the mix.
It has made Mahoney even more determined to play his best football for the Eels in the opening rounds of the season.
"I'd be lying to say I don't think about it,'' Mahoney said. "I've just done a whole pre-season and for now I have to worry about winning football games at Parramatta and performing at my best for my team here and those accolades will come along."
Ironically, it could be rugby league Immortal and NSW Blues great Andrew Johns who ultimately helps catapult Mahoney into Maroons contention.
Johns has joined the Eels as a specialist halves coach.
"We've been picking at Joey's brain," Mahoney said. "He comes down and we do a whole session with Joey, especially the hookers and the halves.
"It's been really good to be able to have access to the level of knowledge he has of the game."