For most supporters, the break between seasons feels like an eternity. For the Parramatta Eels players, they’ve now commenced Week 4 of the pre-season. Time flies for professional footballers.
I have to confess – the pre-season arrived just in time for me. The 2018 season took its toll on my positivity, and the off-season media coverage was doing little to help with my mindset.
However, the enthusiastic buy-in from the squad has been a great tonic.
Given my history of reporting training sessions since 2014, and finding a team consistently preparing well, I should probably clarify the early difference between this year and others.
Back in 2014, Brad Arthur inherited a beaten up squad of wooden spoon footballers. The coaches incorporated fun into training via games. They literally had to make training an enjoyable place to be. This was achieved (and I borrowed a couple of these games for my school coaching).
Each year thereafter found reasons to be optimistic. The 2015 season came off a much improved 2014. The 2016 season would see marquee recruit Foran added a strong squad. The 2017 season would give the team the chance to prove that they would have been worthy finalists in 2016 if not for the salary cap scandal, whilst 2018 saw many experts tipping the club for a top 4 spot.
Moving into 2019, the same coaches and much of the same squad are looking to launch into the new season – unfortunately as reigning wooden spooners. This is new territory for the playing group and new territory for Arthur to be the incumbent coach in a spoon team.
Like many other fans, trying to find motivation from a disaster was a challenge for me. My posts might carry a buoyant sentiment, but the other TCT fellas will testify that my mood was anything but that.
The big question – How do the Eels reboot?
They can’t go back in time and treat training like they did in 2014. After all, the team are good trainers and they trained well throughout 2018 (as they had in the years before) but couldn’t deliver in matches. Last year, I questioned whether there was a psychological basis to the match day yips.
Fortunately, the reboot has already been in evidence in the first few weeks of this pre-season. It’s one based on working hard to win your spot. I’ve referenced it in previous reports – the inclusion of talented, ambitious youth in the full-time squad is exactly what was needed as it’s driving competition, and everyone is sitting up and taking notice. As one of the players said to me today, “We’ve been playing together since we were 16. This is what we want.”
I’ll make no prediction of season performances, because as things stand, this is only training and we still need to see a couple of these blokes moved into the Top 30.
Nonetheless, I’m also pleased to have found cause to be more bullish in my reports than I expected.
Here’s how this morning’s field session went down.
There’s a tough love that exists between trainer Adrian Jimenez and the players. He accepts no shortcuts or excuses. He has high expectations, borne out of his many years with the Storm, and drives the players to find something more.
The work on Field 1 featured plenty of movement up and down the field, as well as sets of 400, 300 and 200 metre runs.
It’s starting to sound like a broken record with the best performers – Gutherson, Dylan Brown, Parry, Dunster, Mahoney, Norman and Smith all featured near the front of their groups. At one stage it looked like Dunster was going to take Gutherson over 200 metres, but the King couldn’t be dethroned.
I was able to spend about five minutes or so with Jimenez after the session. As we discussed the impressive efforts of the young players and how invested they are in meeting and bettering set standards, right on cue the players came over to him to check on their results.
They are undoubtedly throwing down the gauntlet.
As usual, the squad was split into two groups which alternated between the two fields. The skills work occurred on Field 2.
The skills group began with unopposed sets, working through attacking shapes in a typical set of six. Some sets began from a kick return whilst others were from a scrum.
Experience and youth were divided between the groups. Norman and Brown were the halves in one group, Moses and Salmon were the halves in the Other. I didn’t read too much into the splits.
Later work saw an emphasis on defence, with attacking plays starting just outside the 20 metre line throwing questions at both the left and the right side of the ruck. It was all about making better judgements in the defence line – an issue highlighted by too many rushed decisions in 2018.
The final part of the morning was a full field game of two hand touch. With only three tackles per team, opportunities were few and far between. The kick and chase became a major component of this fast-paced game.
As usual, extras rounded out the session. A group of forwards did some additional conditioning whilst Joey Grima worked with the dummy halves, and the halves drilled their width passing.
After about two hours the players left the field. There wasn’t the physicality of Friday’s training, but the kilometres were still put in the legs.
I’ll return with my next report on Wednesday.