There’s a saying about variety being the spice of life. Today, the Eels moved from their usual morning field session to the late afternoon and there was plenty of footy to watch.
Why the change?
The Eels under 20s squad were sharing the field and ran their attacking plays against the NRL boys. Given that the young blokes train in the afternoon as most are busy during the day in work or education, this combined session could only take place at Jersey Flegg training.
Two squads in attendance meant there were plenty of people watching proceedings. Tepai, who was doing a bit of running with the rehab group (nothing to be concerned about there), called out his encouragement to the 20s as they filed past – “Give it to ’em boys!”
For the record, Kasey Badger was in control of the hit out. With the entire session confined to the 20 metre zone, the Eels obviously didn’t provide the kilometres that she was looking for. Consequently, she spent about 20 minutes running after the opposed work concluded. Like the rest of the referee ranks, she lacks nothing in fitness.
Both the NRL and Flegg teams did an outstanding job in the play the ball, and I can’t recall a penalty being blown.
Here’s an overview of what transpired:
Both teams went through separate warm ups and stretches. The NRL boys added fatigue to their preparation with a game of full field, two hand touch.
This game also involved the defender sprinting off the field, and around a marker before re-joining the defence line. It’s non-stop play with nowhere to hide.
The Flegg team then lined up in the 20m zone with strike pads, allowing the NRL team to work through their attacking shapes for about 10 minutes. This would be the last time that the top grade blokes would see the ball for the next 40 minutes or so. It was time for relentless defence.
In an opposed session similar to last year, the 20s were given what must have been at least 40 sets of 6 from close range as the NRL team were asked to turn away everything thrown at them.
Although it wasn’t match level intensity, some of the hits would have left a mark. I’d be surprised if Dylan Brown doesn’t wake up in the morning with a reminder of a Matagi shot across his chest. A fine hello from one Kiwi to another!
The defensive structures and behaviours – communicating, getting off the line, numbering up etc were being tested against an unfamiliar attack. When the first grade squad splits into two groups for their usual opposed work, everyone is accustomed to each other. Although the Flegg team are at a lower skill and experience level compared to NRL players, many of the top squad would be unaware of the likes of Taipari, Brown, Afualo or Tupou. It asks different questions of the defence when the opposition is unknown.
* Kenny Edwards – he was outstanding. He’s an astute defender, with a good read of the play. Even when he was interchanged off, he was still barking instructions and encouragement for the team.
* Will Smith – deceptively strong, he got himself under a much bigger opponent who seemed certain to score and actually lifted him up and pushed him back.
* Tim Mannah – outstanding defence in the middle, including some powerful one on one tackles.
* Mitch Moses – clever in his communication. Organises the surrounding defenders well. Seems to also read the entire line.
* Line Speed – even after 30 minutes of constant defending, the team kept getting off their line.
* Talk – loud and specific. Following calls, players adjusted quickly when returning to the line. When breaks were taken, players that worked together (eg left side, right side) would break away and quickly review their movements.
After conceding an early try, and sensing the steam emanating from BA, the Eels defence became a near impenetrable wall.
The 20s were missing a couple of gun players, but Taipari and Brown ensured that questions were asked. “Smokin Joe” has an incredible left foot step which caught some of the NRL forwards off guard throughout the session and Brown was constantly switching the point of the attack.
Tui Afualo required the attention of multiple defenders on every run, and Michael Tupou and Sean Keppie provided the grunt through the middle.
New Flegg coach, Dean Feeney, would have noted the handling errors – undoubtedly the pressure exerted by NRL defenders and the accompanying frustration were factors in some untidy periods.
Overall, there was plenty of energy and effort on effort in the defence. Given the conditioning that the squad has undertaken with Lachlan Wilmot, I was expecting nothing less.
There was obviously plenty for BA to take out of this. He spent a bit of time talking individually to certain players and he seemed to be keeping notes throughout the session.
Not long now people!
Footnote: Jarryd Hayne was engaged in additional running as the team worked through their extras. The media likes to use the same image of Haynesy (taken on his first day of pre-season) in many of their columns about his fitness. The current photo would look much different.