For Eels supporters right now, there might just be no greater feeling than slamming that door shut on 2018. It feels more finite to hit the new year and shove last season into the dumpster to which it belongs. Day 1 of 2019 training today has essentially signalled the countdown to the season opener.
Yet as much as the first day back at Old Saleyards for the new year was heralding a new beginning, some things never change.
Cue Clint Gutherson. The man is a freak, a relentless machine – in fact whatever metaphor you choose to use for someone who refuses to finish second.
This morning, the serious business of NRL preparation saw the Eels players warmly welcomed back with a beep test. What awaited them was no surprise to the squad, and to be honest, it ensured that as professional footballers they maintained a fitness regime during their break.
As far as standards go, the squad could have no better role model. As Gutherson finished his last stage on his own, the playing group gathered around him to urge him on as he equaled a personal best in the gruelling examination of fitness. (The recorded beeps and instruction voice would surely visit the participants in their nightmares.) It must be inspirational for the players, especially the younger group and those new to the club, to see a team leader push themselves to the limit first day back.
What of the challengers?
Does it surprise that Dylan Brown and Haze Dunster only dropped out one stage before Gutherson? Or that Kyle Schneider and Ethan Parry finished just before them?
The player that caught my eye during the beep test was Salesi Fainga’a. He’s come back in great condition after the break and any question marks surrounding his fitness were answered today. I’m not sure whether he’s hit any weight mark that the staff are looking for, but he’s demonstrating that he can match the NRL fellas in their conditioning drills.
There was some light ball work included in the session as the squad was moved unopposed through their basic shapes. Starts were rehearsed from kick offs, penalty taps, scrum wins, and kick returns, and the 6th tackle option was varied.
I’ll be critical and suggest that they looked a bit rusty in their execution this morning. This would not be unexpected after a break, but the coaches would want the ball work to be a bit sharper in their next field session.
Today’s fieldwork was rounded out with more conditioning under the control of Adrian Jimenez. With the players doing their best to stay in a line as they ran their intervals, the feature was the talk. Closest to our vantage point, blokes like Moses and Gutherson barked and demanded that each run be finished strongly and with positive body language.
Jimenez found some minor faults with a couple of individuals. The upshot? The squad decided that it wasn’t good enough so they all did an extra set of up and down off the ground intervals. Fairly impressive discipline there!
Today seemed to be mostly about assessing what shape the players came back in after their 17 day break. Personally, I expected to see good results, especially from the younger brigade. At the final session before their Christmas break, many of them were discussing how’d they keep up with their training over the two weeks. It was this same proactive attitude towards training which saw most of them maintain their regime after the 2018 season concluded.
With today out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing more ball work and opposed sessions as the team consolidates their combinations and players get serious in pushing for a top 17 spot.
To that end, a number of players who’ve been in rehab will start to become more involved. It will be an interesting time to be a spectator.
I’ll be aiming to report on the training form of particular players – specifically those in a battle for spots. I see opportunities in the outside backs and the bench. Hopefully the result in mid February will be some vigorous debate on TCT regarding our likely round one team.