As ridiculous as it seems, the players left behind in Parramatta were probably facing hotter conditions today than those who’ve travelled to Alice Springs. With a 7am start at Saleyards, the worst of the heat was avoided, but there was no escape from the brutality of the training. There may have been no game time for some of our stars this weekend, yet there’s every chance those playing in Central Australia will be doing it easier than these blokes were at Eels headquarters.
Full On Skills and Conditioning
After working through their warm ups, Joey Grima took a group of ten of our stars into a game of forward touch. This is one of the most popular games that the players begin training with. It’s basically touch football with forward passes permitted. There’s plenty of fun and laughs but it certainly continues the warm up process.
From there the group moved into a 5 on 5 drop off drill. In this drill, two teams of 5 are opposed, and after one team is given possession for 5 tackles against the other team, the defending team starts to drop off players. ie 5 on 4 for 4 tackles, 5 on 3 for 3 tackles, 5 on 2 for 2 tackles. Possession is then swapped.
There was plenty of fun banter and sledging with Gutho and Beau taking up Normz’ mantle for dishing out some funny one liners. We even ended up being the target of a few words after signalling an out play in a highly contentious call. In amongst the hard work and laughs, we witnessed the tight bonds within the group.
This drill was exhausting, especially in the conditions, but there would be no respite. Ronnie Palmer had a little fatiguing to lay on these blokes. More up and down. Collisions with tackle pads. Reminders about body language, no weak links, finding something more. The players found their voices, encouraging each other. This is what BA will be looking for in those moments, late in the match, when the game’s on the line. It’s what the Eels are preparing for. And it’s stirring to watch.
Then, just when the players thought they were done, it was time to move into the sand pit for some contact/wrestling. Imagine being exhausted and covered in sweat, then having to get hit in the sand like that! From our perspective, we’re glad they did – it’s not often that you get to see Beau Scott deliver impact like that up close.
Vave and Pritchard – Putting Kilometres In The Legs
I doubt that there’s ever a time when Frank Pritchard isn’t smiling. As Geoff posed the question as Pritchard and Vave strode past us and said hello, Frank’s response was typically good natured – “give me ten minutes of this!”
He wasn’t kidding. Both of the big fellas had few breaks from running for the entirety of the session. After about 30 minutes, their perspiration gave the appearance that they had just emerged from a swim. By this time, it was difficult to tell whether it was a smile or a grimace on Frank’s face. I suspect he was still smiling – it’s in his DNA!
Both of these big units will feature heavily in the Eels pack this year. They’ll strip fitter than they have for some time and the blue and golds will reap the benefit. I’ll not forget the hard work they’ve put in to get to this point.
This was one of the smallest groups of players that I’ve witnessed at training, but it was one of the most gruelling. Perhaps it was the conditions. Perhaps it was the sweat pouring off each bloke. The early morning mattered little. It was a tough hit out to start the weekend.
With Forty and Geoff attending the session, the time passed quickly with plenty of footy talk and observations about the effort the squad has put into this season. We had all made plans to get to Belmore for the junior reps, but the cancellation of the first round made it possible to be at Saleyards for this early training run. A shout out to staffer, Luke, who joined us for a chat after his duties were done.
On a personal note, I was pleased to be able to catch up with Manu Ma’u for the first time in 2017. We discussed my recent post and his background with Suaia Matagi. He really is a humble man. All Eels fans can look forward to what the two of them will deliver this season.
All images courtesy of Parramatta Eels