Wests Tigers remain hopeful that teenage prop Stefano Utoikamanu will gain a release from Parramatta to join the club this season.
The Tigers have signed Utoikamanu on a three-year deal from 2021, but they want to secure his services for 2020.
Parramatta knocked back their release request in November, opting to offer the Australian schoolboys and NSW under-20s star a top-30 NRL position for this season.
The Eels feel the 19-year-old, who has been compared to Brisbane and NSW enforcer Payne Haas, will enhance their chances of success.
Despite the Eels’ stance, it’s understood that Utoikamanu wants to leave and he doesn’t want to make his NRL debut for Parramatta.
The Tigers will continue to negotiate with Eels officials in the hope they can obtain a release, which they believe is in the rising talent’s best interests.
The joint-venture club has the cap space for Utoikamanu, plus opportunities in the front-row for the former Westfield Sports High student to thrive.
The Tigers desperately want an enforcer following the retirement of former New Zealand international Ben Matulino.
Utoikamanu is the perfect fit having starred on the junior representative stage over several seasons.
He excelled during the NSW under-20s win over Queensland last year with almost 150 metres and 11 hit-ups while he scored the matchwinning try and collected the man-of-the-match honours for the Blues under-18s in 2018.
Utoikamanu has been a standout at Parramatta pre-season training.
He has a huge fitness base for a big man while he is incredibly strong weighing in at 115kg.
Utoikamanu appears ready for the step up after impressing in the Canterbury Cup ranks with Wentworthville last season.
He played 17 games for the Magpies, scoring two tries and running for 1602 metres and 604.8 post-contact metres.
Tigers officials are excited about the potential of Utoikamanu teaming up with a player like Zane Musgrove in the front-row.
Musgrove has been a standout at Tigers training this summer after having his contract conditionally approved by the NRL.
The former South Sydney forward has spent 12 months on the sideline following legal charges from an incident on the dance floor of the Coogee Bay Hotel.
However, after having two of the three charges – including aggravated indecent assault and common assault – dropped last in October, the NRL has given the green light for Musgrove to join the Tigers’ squad for pre-season training.