Over the course of the Parramatta Eels pre-season, the challenge falls upon me to find a different angle for each report. I try to look for something that I haven’t reported on before, or maybe focus my attention on a few different players each week.
Let’s be real, there’s around four months of pre-season, three reports a week. By the time the season kicks off, that’s approximately fifty reports about what a rugby league team is doing on the training paddock. So I try to put myself in the readers’ shoes. What would interest you in today’s session?
Fortunately, my reports often write themselves. The marked impact of youth on the team dynamic has been a case in point. In other instances, the fieldwork, or the opposed session, is different to what I’ve reported on before and the content flows. Aside from that, there are simply moments worthy of reporting.
Today’s session provided me with unique moments to report, and yet the assignment of constructing the post was still not easy.
And the reason – the contact session in the sandpit.
My task – how to compose this report without giving away any training methods that may be unique to the club, and yet convey to readers the intensity that I witnessed.
I guess you, the readers, will be the best judge of whether I’ve succeeded in that endeavour.
Opposed (With thanks to Ham and Derek)
Personal circumstances meant that I missed most of this. However, with a small crew in attendance, I was provided with some noteworthy moments.
* The intensity of the contact grew as the opposed hit out unfolded. The words “serious contact” were uttered.
* The halves were again swapped. Brown and Norman were at first paired against Smith and Moses. Brown then paired with Moses against Smith and Norman
* A break down the sideline by Niukore put Moses in for an early try.
* Marata featured again with a charge close to the line looking certain to be rewarded with a try, but this time Dylan Brown stopped the rampaging Kiwi from scoring in an amazing defensive play.
* The offloads from the forwards continued, with a pearler from Junior being the pick.
* Dylan Brown posted a fine individual try after dummying his way through the line and then accelerating.
* Ferguson vs Parry – Fergo might have provided a little jab to the face – yes, it gets willing out there!
The modern game of rugby league is nothing like its ancient past, especially in defence. My recollections about technique only involve being taught head position and shoulder contact, and practising this on team mates or a tackle bag. And it was all about hips and legs.
Nowadays, creating dominance has shifted the focus to the upper body. Wrapping the ball up, getting the attacker onto their back, legitimately slowing up the play-the-ball.
The ruck itself becomes a contest of its own within the match.
For the player carrying the ball, if they’re not breaking the tackle, they’re either looking for an offload or getting a quick play the ball. For the latter this means finding their elbows and knees as they hit the ground.
And so to the contest in the sandpit at Old Saleyards.
This pit is a far cry from the play areas of childhood, but the enjoyment of staff and players watching the battles couldn’t be more apparent.
The squad was split into two groups for the two contact drills of about 20 minutes duration. Like any drill it contained different components to assist the learning, athleticism, and execution of the skill.
Watching on, it wasn’t all about strength. This was a mix of forwards and backs. What I witnessed involved:
* hit and stick – assisted by the attacker charging in hard to demand quality first up contact leading into the battle
* technique – positioning of the arms and body without it becoming an illegal grapple tackle
* discipline – moving as a line, staying legal in the contest, not giving away penalties
* effort on effort – repeated tackles and contests, immediately after completing one
* The sound of the contact – a measure of what this meant to the players
* Marata Niukore setting the tone for the first group with his charges. (Since Marata has been at the club, he’s always attracted the biggest hits in opposed sessions. Why? He rips into every contest.)
* Reed Mahoney hammering into everyone
* The collisions between Dylan Brown and Mahoney. Brown laughing off a bloodied mouth
* Ethan Parry lifting the intensity of the second group as the coaches demanded more
* Gutho and Normz talking it up
* The surprising strength of French and just as surprising agility of Paulo.
* Gowie’s “hair”
It was a privilege to be allowed to watch the contact session from such close quarters today. We’re not strangers to training, but by the same token we are only visitors and this is the workplace of the football department.
Consequently, I’ve tried to convey what was done without giving anything away – if that makes sense? Hopefully, these training reports add context to the great images captured by Eels media.
In watching around 90 minutes to an hour, three times a week, I’m only witnessing a fraction of the work that staff and players put into a pre-season. NRL teams are dedicating over four months of preparation before a ball is kicked in anger. That’s a huge chunk of the year.
We’re already over a month in. Are you counting down the days?