Friday Footy. You gotta love it!
A solid chunk of opposed work looked to be on the agenda when I arrived at Saleyards today. The referees were in attendance, with Russell Smith supervising, and the players were going through their passing drills as I exited the car.
Just two days before, the squad had worked through one of most gruelling sessions I’ve witnessed in recent seasons. This had followed the conditioning and beep tests on Monday.
The planning for this pre-season would sort out who was buying into the work ethic demanded for 2019. Arthur and his staff had scheduled two of the most physically demanding weeks of the pre-season on either side of the Christmas break. There was no easing off going into the break, there was no easing into the return.
The players are either totally in with their attitude to this work or they won’t feature this year. There’s nowhere to hide.
And though footy looked like being the focus of this session, the physical questions continued to be asked of the squad.
This was no easy session to write up. There were aspects that I wasn’t happy about. Watching the coaches and their responses, it was obvious that they found fault. However, I also know that they were pleased. More on that later.
Read the Play Son
The drill being executed at the beginning of the session could have been interpreted as ball skills and attack. Quick hands saw the ball promoted within a corridor. The position of the hands was critical.
However, as the ball reached the last pass, the players had to quickly transition into a defensive position and immediately make defensive decisions about the play being run at them by the next group. There was plenty of communication from the coaches, both praising and correcting what they saw.
The players’ urgency, then choices, was either shutting down or opening up the attack being run at them. Just like in a match, players have to transition quickly, or make decisions under pressure. This was preparing and testing for that.
At the same time, those attacking with the football were given a distinct advantage, and it was interesting to observe how they played what was in front of them.
The Opposed (Or The Good, The Bad and the Funny)
There was a touch of refereeing royalty today with the “Gavs” on duty – Badger and Reynolds. I might question these whistle blowers and their decision making from time to time, but they are fit bastards. Whenever the opposed work broke for conditioning, the refs joined in – even if they didn’t always do the full hitting the ground components.
The squad was split into Red vs Blue. Red was looking like first team choices, but with a disclaimer. There are a few players in rehab at the moment – for various reasons. There are the well publicised (see Ferguson, Smith and Brown) and the minor niggles from training that are given time out from full squad work. I won’t list off the players because I prefer to steer clear of discussing injuries that I’m not qualified to comment on.
Regardless, you can assume that players like Fergo and Browny will be in the run on team. But the flow on effect is that players missing from opposed sessions impacts the positions played by other players.
There are physical, and head questions constantly being thrown at this squad. Are they tough enough physically and mentally to handle it?
This pre-season, the effort on effort has been phenomenal. When the execution hasn’t been good enough, they’ve been physically penalised.
And the reason is simple. Small moments switching off in concentration has immediate and significant consequences in the NRL. It’s a message that BA emphasises in sessions. Last season also rammed that home!
The players are training to be winners, not survivors, of contests. Will this translate to match days? Last season has me cautious, but there is something very positive and very different about this group.
Today, the Red team were obviously a class above the Blue. To be fair, the Blue had many players out of position.
The opposed itself was more contrived than match conditions. Sets were repeated, with and without opposition. Coaching feedback was given when necessary. It was obvious that there were specific plays being drilled today, and if it wasn’t good enough, it was repeated.
The Red forwards impressed with their combination – both in attack and defence. They dominated physically. The spine was sharp with the ball and the talk was very loud. Mahoney, Moses, Brown and Gutho are looking the goods.
My highlight moment was delivered by a player in Blue. With a high ball heading his way, and the chasers all over him, Ethan Parry executed an Aussie Rules above the head take right on the try line. Superb stuff.
The Blue team looked a bit disjointed. Combinations were difficult to achieve.
The reasons weren’t hard to find. Players were out of position and there were orange shirts (no heavy contact) amongst them.
All of this translated into clunky play and a bit too much dropped ball. As players are able to return to opposed work, this will be remedied.
I must give a special mention to Gowie. He was filling in around the halves for the Blue team and I’m sure he enjoyed every moment of it. Our veteran forward possesses genuine ball skills.
Our recruit from the Panthers finally joined in with the opposed session. He’s still wearing an orange shirt and is probably a couple of weeks away from full contact.
But you can’t stop a footballer from what comes naturally.
When a player wearing an orange shirt carries the footy, the players will call out orange as a reminder for tacklers to just grab the player. The player in orange will then surrender.
In one play, Maika took the ball in a hit up, and powered through the grab to burst into the clear. There were a few chuckles as he was brought back to play the ball where he was grabbed. We also had a bit of a laugh with him about it afterwards.
You have to admire that instinct!
Week one of 2019 done and dusted.
The first trial is only a few weeks away. Can you feel it yet?