Thank goodness it’s Friday. I’m not so sure that those words would have been foremost in the minds of the Eels squad as they hit the training paddock today. It’s unlikely that they’d be celebrating too much tomorrow either!
This was a physically demanding field session – not a preferred method of easing into the weekend for most sane people. But this is an NRL pre-season and Parra players would probably be in good company when it comes to feeling the grind of November conditioning.
I missed close to the first hour of today’s session, but there was still more than sixty minutes of football and fitness work to be completed.
Without question, Clint Gutherson is in a class of his own. Behind him sits a group of players ready to take him on.
More on this to follow.
The emphasis looked to be on maintaining a higher running effort over shorter distances. The squad were completing sets of reduced distances – 800, 600, 400 and 300 metres – before undertaking 300 and 400 metre circuits.
These shorter distances may have even been more fatiguing than the longer runs, with little respite between the sets.
A period of these conditioning runs on the number 1 field was followed by opposed work on field two. As in previous days, the training alternated between the fields.
In this session, the conditioning was split into a backs group and a forward group.
This is where it got interesting as it was as if the younger, fleet-footed players had made a pact to take Gutho down.
An early contender in this endeavour was the apprentice – Jaeman Salmon. He tucked in just behind Gutherson in the early circuits. Though he wasn’t far off the pace, it was obvious that Gutherson had his measure.
Ethan Parry and Haze Dunster then looked to keep pace with Gutherson during subsequent runs. Yet every time that one of the young guns took him on, the King would just grind them into the turf.
Pride and work ethic are obviously key components of his performance, but physically he has a capacity that few possess. He hits his top speed fairly quickly, and can then maintain that pace over distance. This was seen in action in 2017 against the Dragons when he charged down a kick, regathered it, then ran away from defenders without appearing to change his pace. He doesn’t need an extra gear, he just keeps going.
But these Flegg graduates are competitive.
They’ll be looking to get his measure – and it’s obvious that having a team captain setting the standard, with a group of young players determined to catch him, can only be beneficial for the culture at training. This has manifested in the efforts of Norman and Moses. Over the years, Normz has never been anything less than professional in his efforts on the training paddock, but he and Moses seem to have found something extra right now in their track work.
The surprising feature of the opposed work was the contact in defence. Whilst not as ferocious as an NRL match, it was certainly a long way from two hand touch or players easing into the tackles.
Players who found key moments in attack today included Bevan French, Reed Mahoney, Mitch Moses, Junior Paulo, Ray Stone and Jaeman Salmon.
The offloads from Paulo and Stone were classy and it was good to see Salmon chance his hand with a chip and chase over the fullback.
Unfortunately I missed the try scored by French but those who witnessed it informed me that it was a ripper, with the Bevan of old on display.
It’s encouraging to watch the Flegg graduates feel like they are part of the squad, and likewise watching the senior players treating them as peers augers well for the transition of youth into the top squad.
It’s early days in the maiden NRL pre-season for the likes of Sivo, Davey, Parry, Brown, Dunster, Kaufusi, Schneider, Fainga’a and the Utoikamanu brothers, and their progression over the period leading up to Christmas will be interesting to observe.
Will the demands be too much or will they thrive?
This is where the orientation provided to the young players in the latter part of the 2018 season could prove to be crucial. The early mornings working with NRL staff have prepared the rookie group for what lies ahead. It will be interesting to observe how they handle the continued intensity.
Week 3 done and dusted.
Bring on Week 4.