Over the previous four months I’ve waxed lyrical about the pre-season preparations undertaken by the Eels. Like all clubs, the team has stepped up on previous years. That’s the nature of the beast – if you don’t aim to step up, how can you possibly improve on the previous year?
Though the benefits of a tougher, smarter pre-season should be revealed throughout the season, the work of the last few months is now consigned to history. From here on, Parramatta’s training will focus on preparing for their next opponent.
There’s still running mechanics incorporated in the warm up. There’s still conditioning as the players are regularly pushed to a certain level of fatigue before and during opposed sessions. But each coming week must prepare them to be at their physical and mental best on game day.
Training becomes an art form as the turn around varies. Recovery, training, time off and a captain’s run all have to be fitted into this 5 to 7 day period between matches. This is why there are so many critics of Brisbane featuring regularly on Friday night football. It’s not so much to do with prime time saturation – though that is beneficial. It’s the advantage found in the stability of a regular 6-7 day interval.
Fortunately the Eels will enjoy a “Broncos-esque” draw in 2018, with only the single 5 day turn around before the round 15 clash with the Rabbitohs.
Another advantage for Parramatta’s training in 2018 is the depth of the squad.
NRL clubs now boast thirty man rosters plus six development contract players. The Eels pack goes so deep into the roster that, depending on injuries, some players on NRL contracts might start from the bench at Wenty at different points throughout the season.
The advantage of such depth is that any opposed session pits the NRL team against quality opposition on the Saleyards training paddock. These players can read the attack or challenge the defence of the top 17. Under instruction, they can simulate pet plays used by other NRL teams. It’s quality preparation.
The Eels have begun this week’s preparation with a healthy dose of ball skills and opposed work. They’ve been solid in their execution and it’s looked like serious business, with banter only creeping in during some grid drills.
Monday concluded with a captain’s talk from Tim Mannah. Arthur, Murf and Joey Grima step aside during these moments. As BA said to us one week – “they can’t just be hearing my voice, I won’t be out on the field with them on match day.”
However, Arthur’s voice featured prominently during Tuesday’s session. Firstly he led the forwards in a series of defensive drills. It’s a privilege to hear BA coach the players through their positioning, their movements, and the factors that should guide their decision making. Players are encouraged to have a voice in these discussions, as they seek clarification or add their opinion.
Finally, Arthur directed the opposed work, with Joey refereeing and Murf encouraging, pushing and praising the troops.
I do have an overall observation, confirmed through the pre-season and the trial, and it’s this:
Parramatta have one of the most balanced squads in the NRL. It’s a squad four years in the making, and in years to come we’ll become familiar with the term “Parra footy” – because that’s the brand of football the team will play
The Eels have an underrated pack of forwards – blokes who will work well as a unit, play for each other, and have a bit of mongrel in their approach. But don’t take them for granted. They’ve spent the pre-season up skilling. Outside them, it’s an undeniably classy and versatile backline. Arguably the most potent in the competition. The loss of Semi has well and truly been compensated for via the recruitment of Hayne.
I’m expecting the forwards to get plenty of plaudits for their efforts on Sunday against the Panthers. They’ll pave the way for those flashy fast men to show their wares. Those who’ve seen the forwards as a weakness will get a surprise this year.
Brad Arthur On NRL360
After watching Arthur’s impressive appearance on Monday night’s episode of NRL360, I’m convinced that he’s not just one of the most talented coaches in the game, he’s fast becoming one of the most respected.
Undoubtedly, 2016 was a massive learning curve when it came to dealing with the media. Nothing can prepare you for a season like that. BA took plenty of the press conference heat that year for issues beyond his control, but handled it with increasing confidence and strength.
His unwavering support of his players and loyalty to the Eels won a swag of admirers amongst supporters. Winning games in spite of the surrounding chaos spoke volumes about BA’s leadership and the culture being created at the club. It typified the resilience of Arthur and garnered the respect of the league community.
On Monday night, BA fielded questions about Hayne and Norman, about team selections, about his own development as a coach and about meeting expectations for this year. He’s only entering his fifth season as an NRL head coach, but he answered questions like a seasoned veteran – minus the cliches. I’d be interested in how other supporters viewed this appearance.
Of course, media commitments aside, the most important factor for Eels supporters has been the resurgence of the club under our coach.
At the end of his current contract, Arthur will sit second – behind only Brian Smith – for most games in charge of the Eels.
I’d like to think it’s still early days in his tenure.
As for the footy, I’m thinking of it in my own terms – only two more training sessions till match day!