Parramatta are shaping up to sign former Wests Tigers and New Zealand centre Paul Whatuira as the Eels try to re-build following the departure of Eric Grothe, and the lingering issues surrounding Timana Tahu.
Whatuira, who agreed to a 1-year-deal with the club yesterday, with an option in the Eels favour of signing him for 2012, is set to officially sign with the club on Monday, subject to a medical.
Whatuira, who is a dual premiership winner was set to retire from football altogether, before a heart-to-heart talk with new Eels coach Stephen Kearney convinced him to change his mind and play on.
”It’s good to be back,” Whatuira said yesterday, shortly after agreeing to a modest deal, which includes incentives. ”It’s a good opportunity for me to try and establish myself back in the NRL. It’s been three years, and I’m really looking forward to it.
”I always thought I’d come back and hopefully finish up in the NRL. It’s a great opportunity Parramatta have given me â€¦ it’s a great club with tradition, and they’ve got some quality players there. I’ve still got that hunger and I’m still willing to learn, and I’m just stoked.
”I was contemplating retirement, but one door closes and another one opens. Losing Timana was a big loss for the club, and Eric Grothe announcing his retirement is a huge loss too, but that’s given me an opportunity to try and work my way back into the system. It’s great timing.”
Kearney was impressed with Whatuira, who has won two premierships with Penrith and the Wests Tigers in 2003 and 2005 respectively, as well as making his test debut in 2004 for NZ.
”He’s definitely a coach that I want to learn off,” Whatuira said. ”I know they’ve been working hard in the pre-season, and I definitely see Parramatta as a club on the rise.
”Jarryd Hayne’s a freak. It’ll be awesome to play alongside him. And Nathan Hindmarsh is a great leader. It’s definitely a club on the rise, and they’ve definitely got the talent there. I just want to try and work hard and be a part of it.”
Whatuira, who previously suffered from depression cast some doubt over a move from taking place in light of some incidents involving Whatuira in England, but he says that with the birth of his one-year-old daughter Gabrielle, his life has changed, and so has he.
With the move set to bring Whatuira closer to his family, but he isn’t getting carried away at this stage.
”I’m not going to promise anything,” Whatuira said. ”I just want to give it my best shot. I know I’m going to have to work hard and put my head down. It’s something I really feel that I can achieve. I don’t expect to jump straight into the squad. I know they’ve got some quality centres there. I’m just going to have to fit into the set-up and work hard and bide my time.”