Have you ever been pushed to your physical limits?
Some readers might know exactly what that feels like. Many might not. Today there must have been a number of Eels players who could answer that question.
This was two hours of challenge upon challenge.
And if there were players who reached that point of feeling like they had given it all, they weren’t allowed to show it.
“Stand up! Get your hands off your hips! Body language!”
The calls from staff and players reminded everyone that they couldn’t show fatigue to the opposition.
Once again the training was split between two fields – conditioning on Field 1 and skills on Field 2. The players alternated between the fields, completing four 15 minute periods on each field. That’s eight periods for a total of two hours.
Here’s the breakdown:
The first conditioning period featured short runs with the players getting down onto the ground and up again. Working in pairs, the running back and forth would see the pair come together for a standing wrestle.
This period was wrapped up with a quick try line drill which saw the ball moved from one side of the field to the other without the players running. As the ball moved, the defence looked to number up.
The second period of conditioning had more running and more hitting the ground, and more pairing up for a wrestle. The team also completed a 400 metre run. No prizes for guessing who led them in!
By the time the team hit their third period of conditioning, the players were fighting against fatigue. Reminders about body language started to echo around the facility. The players were challenged to complete running sets inside specified times. Failure to complete meant a penalty of a repeated set.
The final period with Adrian Jimenez became all about not breaking under the challenge. A target of 11 seconds was now set for a run set as the players pushed themselves to the limit. Remarkably all achieved their goal – but not before they repeated the set multiple times.
Between each conditioning period, the players moved to field 2 for skills work. In an opposed drill, what looked like a defensive goal was just as much about ball retention in attack.
Part of the woes of 2018 was the defensive workload. The Eels turned over a mountain of possession and games became tackling practice – and we didn’t fare too well at that!
After completing a period of conditioning, the players were split into Blue and Red teams for these opposed drills. One team was designated as the attacking team for an entire period. Their job was to throw a challenge out to the defence, all whilst aiming for high ball retention.
With some players missing today, some players filled in out of position (backrowers in the centres – Fergo and Jenko yet to return from their breaks).
This meant a halves pairing of Norman and Brown lined up against Moses and Salmon.
With four periods of opposed work, each team had two turns in attack. To be fair, each team did well when handed possession. All the halves looked strong as the players ran good lines around them.
The standout moments were a cut out pass from Norman to Parry for a try; Gutho putting George Jennings across in the corner; Gutho putting Dunster away; Moses putting Marata in with a superb ball at the line; Norman putting GL in for a big diving try in the corner; a Norman kick for Salesi to gather and score; a powerful try for GL cutting back in from the wing; and Gutho again putting Dunster across.
The impressive aspect was that the ball retention under fatigue was good, with the team in possession given encouragement to chance their hand.
I was impressed by the spine today and the lines run by our edge players, especially Marata, Tepai and Salesi.
Though the opportunities were there for the attack to shine, there was also a step up in the defensive collision. As the players noted, it wasn’t as tough as in a match, but you felt it.
I want to again emphasise that these reports are written for Eels supporters and the aim is to detail the Eels pre-season. I’m not being ignorant of the work being done by other clubs, that’s for their supporters to report on. Every club will be working hard, so I’m making no comparisons in that regard.
The players are feeling it, but they’re incredibly supportive of each other. More impressively, the younger players are excelling.
More to come on Friday.