If Canterbury had had their way, Jarryd Hayne would be playing for them rather than against them on Friday night.
The Bulldogs have been on the lookout for a marquee fullback recruit from the moment they released Ben Barba to Brisbane and hoped Hayne would be their man if he was disgruntled at Parramatta. Canterbury officials held informal talks with Hayne's management after hearing he was out of pocket to the tune of up to $200,000 in third-party payments amid infighting and speculation about the direction of the club.
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However, Hayne has never had any intention of leaving and negotiations are under way to ensure he stays beyond his contract that ends next year, so he can finish his career as a one-club man.
Playing under coach Brad Arthur and former mentor Daniel Anderson, now general manager of football, Hayne is reproducing – and arguably eclipsing – the form that earned him Dally M honours in 2009. The 26-year-old's third-party payment issues have been resolved and there are hopes he can lead the blue and golds into the finals just a year after they earned a second consecutive spoon.
"He's the type of player you don't see come around very often, and it's definitely good to play with him not against him," Eels forward Darcy Lussick said.
Should he inspire Parramatta to a win over Canterbury, they will climb into the top eight at the expense of their arch-rivals. Having scored doubles in his past three outings to go to the top of the try-scorers list, Hayne could hold the key to the finals fortunes of both clubs at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
"Haynesy, he's been on fire lately," opposing fullback Sam Perrett said.
"He's definitely a big target for us. We need to do our best to nullify what he brings. The best way to do that is as a team, for sure. Along with all of their other threats on the field."
After consistently reproducing his Origin form at club level, Hayne was voted by his peers as the best player in the game in the annual Rugby League Week magazine players' poll.
"In terms of players, he's right up there absolutely," Perrett said.
"He's [got] natural ability, his form as of late, he's a huge part of that NSW success. It's exciting to come up against Haynesy, it's an opportunity to lift your game and put your best foot forward. That's what I'm excited about, the challenge."
Hayne was on Origin duty when the teams met earlier this year, but the Eels still got the job done with Chris Sandow filling in at fullback.
"Jarryd's in great form at the moment, he's going to have a lot of confidence and he's scored a few tries lately," Bulldogs centre Josh Morris said.
"He's in great form and we're going to have to shut him down on the weekend. He's a key part of their team but he's not the only part of their team."
Canterbury forward Aiden Tolman added: "He's the type of player who can pull something from nothing. He's a tremendous player but there's 12 other players on the field, so we need to make sure we're doing a job on them too."
In just 17 games this season, Hayne has scored more tries (17) and produced more line-break assists (8) than he did in 26 games during Parramatta's unlikely run to the 2009 decider. The captain scored his 100th try against Canberra last weekend and is behind only Brett Kenny and Luke Burt as the club's greatest try-scorers.