Wet conditions greeted visitors to Old Saleyards this morning in today’s pre-season field session. The temperature was relatively cool but the drizzle would have kept the humidity quite high for a solid two hours of training.
Both fields were in action as the squad alternated between skills and conditioning. Lachlan Wilmot began the session by leading the players through their stretches and warm ups. It was then over to the coaches for the first of the skills drills.
From there, the remainder of the session alternated between the fields, moving from sets of skill drills with the coaches to the conditioning sets with Adrian Jimenez and then back again. There were four sets of drills and four sets of conditioning runs.
These were conducted on the number 2 field (alongside the brick facilities building). This was our vantage point for the day, a welcome location given the drizzling conditions.
Separating into smaller groups, the players drilled their ruck shapes. These are the standard shapes that all teams work on for hitting up the ball off the ruck. The coaches were spread out around the groups so all players were able to get immediate feedback when necessary.
The remainder of the skill drills were like mini opposed sessions with Mick Potter in the refs shirt. Those basic ruck shapes were run at organised defence lines. On occasions, the contact was a little heavier than I would have expected.
Again, we witnessed the players communicating about their positioning, the ref’s position, their movement back into the line and so on. It goes without saying that this is not just an essential after the defensive issues from 2018, but there are also new recruits and promoted players to consider.
Defensive shapes and decisions vary according to field position. Therefore the set starts would sometimes commence in kick return mode or sometimes just outside the 20 metres in an attacking position.
Whilst it seemed like there was probably more emphasis on the defence in these drills, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t a standout attacking moment.
Haze Dunster was put into a try scoring opportunity with only Gutho to beat. A combination of Gutherson’s defensive decision and an error from a support player made it look like the likely try had been shut down. However, Dunster took the King on and produced a clever pass to ice the four pointer.
This was done on the number 1 field (outside the demountables).
Rugby league type conditioning was the feature – up and down in a line on the field, up and back over 10 metre intervals, hitting the ground – it was consistent and energy sapping. The players would have completed around 6 or 7 kilometres throughout the morning.
There was very little recovery time between sets, and there was plenty of talk. Background noise was blasted out but we could still hear the staff barking at the players, and Gutho demanding effort from his team mates.
In one of the conditioning activities the running mirrored defensive line movements. The players would hit the ground, rise to their feet then take an angled run back to a specific position.
It wasn’t really possible to identify standouts in the conditioning work as the majority of the squad stayed in a line in their runs. On the rare occasion that a player could break ahead from the lines, it wasn’t unsurprising who that player was!
In the first couple of reports I’ve highlighted the impressive efforts of the younger players. It’s fair to say that their energy is a tremendous inclusion in a team needing some impetus after a disappointing 2018 season.
So what is there to report about the squad in general this early in the pre-season?
The most obvious is the size. There’s some bigger units in the young forwards (see Stefano and Oregon) but players like Danny Alvaro, Tim Mannah and Manu Ma’u all appear to be carrying more kilograms – in a good way.
Alvaro in particular looks very big. I’d estimate that he’d be at least 6-8 kg heavier than last season. We all know that Junior Paulo was recruited to add power to the pack (though he’s definitely a much smaller version than the player who returned to the Raiders after last year’s World Cup), and unheralded recruit Andrew Davey is not lacking in size. I’d guarantee that most supporters would be surprised by the bigger dimensions of the group.
As the pre-season continues, I’ll look to identify something specific about the squad or particular players.