Once again, this Wednesday’s report will be a mixture of the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions.
Tuesday is a light workload day and wouldn’t really justify a dedicated post, but some feedback from it does provide a greater picture of some of the preparations that make up the pre-season.
Keeping up the theme of mixture, the Wednesday opposed session brought with it the swapping and changing of halves, fullbacks and props. There was an unexpected constant that didn’t change today, which makes for some interesting speculation.
With the return of Blake Ferguson from his mandated NRL leave, the 2019 squad is now all on deck for training. There are a few players in rehab, something that is typical in any season, but with the majority available for full contact the stage becomes set for combinations to be worked upon.
Here’s how the last two days have evolved:
The early morning was spent with groups of players working on position specific skills. Prior to my arrival, the halves had been honing their long passes. When I arrived, another group were working on their passing and tip ons with Potter and Kidwell.
Like most skill drills, this was scaffolded from the skill itself to running it at an opposition. Quick hands were the name of the game.
The interesting aspect to observe was the banter between Ferguson and the other players. They’ve obviously made him feel at home and he’s easily adjusted.
Following the skills work, the entire squad moved onto the field to consolidate their knowledge of the basic shapes coming from deep in their own territory.
This has to be second nature. With a couple of young halves and a large number of new players added to the full-time squad, it’s no surprise that extra time is required on this aspect.
It doesn’t matter how often I watch this bloke train, I continue to be amazed by Clint Gutherson. Even though the young players have thrown everything they have and more into keeping up with him, the reality is that the King is in a class of his own.
The players were put through their shuttle runs with all of the up and downs off the ground. This was followed with a timed run of around 1.5km.
In the backs group, Gutho simply blasted away from the pack and maintained that distance. The closest to him was Haze Dunster (probably about 40m behind), then Reed Mahoney who came with a withering finish to reel in about 4 or 5 players ahead of him in the last 200 metres.
In the forwards, it was Mannah leading the pack, with Marata Niukore placing just behind. The Kiwi back rower is really warming into this pre-season (more on this later.)
With the players fatigued from the conditioning, it was the ideal time to move into some full contact opposed footy.
The main features of the opposed session were:
* At first, it seemed like the players in main contention were playing in the Red team.
* The halves were swapped between the two teams. Moses and Norman had first crack, with Brown and Smith opposing them.
* Brown and Norman traded positions, with Moses staying in Red to play the dominant role. Therefore, Moses had an uninterrupted session at half. Can anything be read into this? Probably not.
* Gutherson swapped from Red to Blue, trading places with French.
* Salmon played in the centres today, swapping from Blue team to Red team. His game was marked by a couple of very strong charges, one through the middle and the other out wide.
* Marata Niukore set up a superb try for Gutherson. Running out wide near the halfway mark, he charged into space, put on a great step to beat a defender and then offloaded in the tackle for Gutho to score.
* One of the breaks saw Danny Alvaro break into the open off second phase footy before he himself offloaded in a tackle. Only great scramble ended the raid.
* David Gower reminded us that he is a five-eighth trapped in a forward’s body.
* Quality second phase footy was matched by smart defensive decisions.
* Other inclusions today were the games of beach footy and raid footy, and of course the usual extras. The games were highly competitive, and the emphasis was on finding and creating space. These are fun games and there was a fair share of banter and celebrations.
The Wednesday session would have pleased the coaches. Apart from one wasted opportunity following a penalty, the players executed many of the plays that the coaches had been working on.
There were good questions asked of the defence, especially on the back of the work through the middle. Breaks made were shut down by scrambling defence.
Bring on Friday!