Incredibly, this is the final pre-season training report for 2018. As you read this, the players are beginning their well-deserved holidays.
Normally, the week of work ends with a big Friday session. This final week concluded on Thursday. And in keeping with the Christmas theme, Adrian Jimenez ensured that he delivered his own version of good tidings as the squad wound up their 2018 commitments.
This post will include both the Wednesday and Thursday sessions. The kilometres were clocked up, the turf imprinted hundreds of times.
Merry Christmas fellas.
The squad again alternated between conditioning and field work.
Sets of 100, 150 and 200 metre runs were completed with little rest. Some players excelled in the first few sets then those with greater endurance began to make their mark. Making benchmarked times was crucial.
Getting up and down off the ground continued to feature. This is gruelling stuff. The players run and hit the ground at different intervals – every 5 metres, 10 metres, 20 metres – depending on the drill.
But this is no silent pain. As the players move and hit the ground in a line they’re expected to be calling out. Individuals are reminded if they can’t be heard – not letting down their team mate is emphasised.
There were some notable performances during the conditioning. Salmon surprised with his pace over 100 metres, leading in the backs (not including Ferguson, Jennings and Gutherson). Likewise Tepai rekindled memories of his days as a union centre when leading home the forwards over the sprint distance.
Typically Tim Mannah set a high standard in his group, whilst Haze Dunster, Reed Mahoney and Kyle Schneider were also outstanding.
The conditioning concluded with the promise of a special last day awaiting them on Thursday.
The team worked through their set shapes – left side then right side – firstly unopposed, then later with opposition.
These are the times when players get to work on basic combinations and learn their roles. When matches unfold, players are able to play what’s in front of them, but the team will also have shapes to get field position or to generate particular responses and opportunities from the defence.
From a spectator perspective, moments like these are for the purists. It’s not like the opposed work that is akin to watching a match. You simply see the team drilling shapes over and over, then working on variations of the same.
Sometimes you can hear the fine tuning or correction of the coaches, or even the explanation of why a certain shape is being used. On those occasions, the understanding of what the team is working towards becomes clearer.
Besides a set looking slick from the sideline, I also judge how well they are progressing when the squad breaks into applause after a set.
I’ve watched three days of fieldwork this week, and I reckon this has been one of the big conditioning weeks of the pre-season. Jimenez promised a special Christmas present. I’m not sure that the average person would enjoy the gift delivered today, but I also know he’s very proud of the squad.
After warming up and working with Lachie Wilmot on their strength and running mechanics, it was a typical schedule of alternating between conditioning and skills.
Interval running included measuring up against a partner for a standing grapple and the ever-exhausting, ever-challenging up and down off the ground.
There was barely a time when the players weren’t kept moving, and the kilometres covered were checked during the session. People are often curious about the small tight crop tops that the players wear. These contain a GPS device on the back. This means that individual efforts can be monitored. Sometimes players have their work varied from others in the squad – either adding or reducing their load according to individual needs.
As for the big performers, I can’t go past Reed Mahoney and Haze Dunster. And yes Gutho was there but I reckon those two overshadowed him.
The ball work began with sets of two-hand touch attacking in the quarter. It seemed like the emphasis was creating space by moving the ball around, and the play restarted with an “offload” rather than a play the ball. Improvisation and playing what was in front seemed to be of importance, but praise was also given out for defensive movements and decisions.
Even drills like these are highly competitive. With the squad split into two teams, there’s plenty of banter when a try is scored or when a play is shut down. It’s what I want to see.
The highlight of the morning was definitely the contact work.
This was like shifting their sandpit defensive drills onto the pitch, with the impacts not only drawing a reaction from us on the sideline, but also from the coaches and team mates.
Working in a tight pattern close to the ruck, the ball carrier charged into the defence with the contact techniques covered in the pit being applied to “match simulation.”
In such close quarters, there was no escaping the brutal collisions. The way the fellas ripped in, you’d be hard-pressed to think of them as team mates engaged in a training drill.
The contact was ferocious, with one string of hits delivered by Gutho leaving its mark on three of his mates. Stefano also left an impression and there was no question about Polar’s intent to send a message with his shoulders.
Given the physicality of this drill, it was probably unfair to single out players. But I’ll be a happy supporter if this is a barometer of the Eels defensive attitude in 2019.
As training wrapped up today, there was no shortage of players and staff ready for a break. Nonetheless, there were also smiles to be seen all around Old Saleyards. We even commented on how happy BA looked at training on Wednesday.
The players and staff know how far the squad have come as a group. Whilst I can’t measure premiership performance from a pre-season, I can make a judgement about attitude. And after my initial concerns about coming into this pre-season on the back of a wooden-spoon campaign, I’m now looking forward to seeing what the squad will deliver in the remainder of their preparations.
As I conclude this report, I’d like to thank the players and staff who’ve taken the time to speak with us over the last eight weeks. Whether it be to explain drills, talk about goals or just to say g’day and have a chat, your support and respect for Eels supporters is much appreciated.
Merry Christmas everyone.