With a mounting list of unavailable forwards, Eels coach Brad Arthur has turned to Wests Tigers-bound youngster Stefano Utoikamanu for Sunday's tricky road trip to Newcastle.
Utoikamanu, viewed as a potential star after impressing for NSW in the State of Origin under-20 clash last year, was the subject of a tug-of-war between Parramatta and the Tigers in the off-season with the joint-venture club trying to get him a year early after signing him for 2021.
He will make his long-awaited Telstra Premiership debut on Sunday and could be lining up against his future club in round 11 with Parramatta missing four middle forwards after a string of mid-season injuries.
The rising star caused a stir in January when he signed a three-year deal with the Tigers, starting in 2021.
The Tigers were hopeful of landing the promising prop sooner but the Eels responded by upgrading Utoikamanu from the development list to a top 30 spot in the belief that they may yet need him this season.
Knights v Eels - Round 9
Former international Mark O'Meley, who coached Utoikamanu's when he represented the Blues under 20s, told NRL.com the 20-year-old was a joy to have in his side.
"He's a very respectful, very humble, really good kid; I'm really proud to see him making his debut," O'Meley said.
"I thought he would have debuted earlier but he's obviously contracted at the Tigers next year."
Parramatta's reluctance to let the young star depart proved a prescient decision, with Ray Stone and Oregon Kaufusi suffering hand injuries in round eight to compound the absence of Kane Evans (calf) and Peni Terepo.
"He's got a big motor, good size frame, gets through a quick play-the-ball. The new rules will open his lungs up and test him but I'm sure Brad Arthur's confident and I'm sure he won't let them down," O'Meley said.
"I probably took him for granted because he's been such an easy, coachable kid since I've worked with him.
"He's got a football brain as well, he understands his role and the small fundamentals about what's important to be involved in the game."
Arthur has already been rotating through his bench forwards to ensure each gets some game time and is ready to go if required, with Daniel Alvaro (who played in round seven) the only available middle forward not in this week's 17.
Utoikamanu will come off the bench against the Knights with just 11 days between that game and the Tigers, with his current club to host his future club at Bankwest Stadium on July 23.
The hulking prop only turned 20 in May but was in his third season of Canterbury Cup when the COVID-19 lockdown started, having got a taste of playing alongside the big boys back in 2018 when just 18.
Otahuhu-born and western Sydney raised, Utoikamanu attended Westfield Sports High and has been in the Eels system from Harold Matthews under 16s.
He has been a regular fixture in junior rep teams, appearing for NSW in under 16s, under 18s and under 20s as well as for the Australian Schoolboys.
Utoikamanu hasn't played since round one of the Canterbury Cup in March but there should be no questions about the motor on the 191cm, 115kg prop.
His 2019 stats include 17 games, averaging 27 tackles, 96 metres and two busts per game with two tries.
He scored a match-winning try in a man of the match performance off the bench in the 2018 under-18s Origin match for NSW and ran for 149 metres off the bench in a big under-20s Origin win last year.