I’m not going to waste any of your reading time describing the conditions at training today. Every single one of you knows what Sydney is like right now.
But despite the oppressive heat, this was a true footy Friday.
After the stretches, warm up and some skills work down a corridor of the field, it was time to launch into what was arguably the longest opposed session of this pre-season.
There were a couple of omissions with players still in rehab, as well as some players in orange, but the majority of the squad were today given more “game time” to hone their combinations or push their claims for a first grade spot.
The NRL referees were again officiating the proceedings, and like other sessions, they joined in with the conditioning work. I’m guilty of bagging their decisions but I won’t bag their work ethic or fitness.
It was Blue (NRL) vs Red (interchange, challengers and rookies), though this doesn’t mean that places are set in stone. However, as we get closer to the season proper, the likely NRL line up will need more time together.
* An early Mitch Moses break to put Dunster away for the first try. The break came from clever individual play and the support play from Dunster was first class.
* A magnificent try-saving ankle tap from Bevan French on a flying Dylan Brown after Brown looked to have beaten the fullback close to the line.
* A heads up defensive decision from Ray Stone to help shut down what looked like a certain try.
* Kane Evans returning to full contact and looking to create some second phase
* With Kaysa Pritchard filling a halves role for the Reds, Kyle Schneider operated out of dummy half and looked very sharp.
* The continuation of consistently heavy collisions in defence
* Big talk between the players. Most impressively, as the players hit their final conditioning, they found their loudest voices.
* David Gower again impressing with the Reds, leading the players and delivering quality passes.
* Blake Ferguson (he’d obviously been training in the gym) walking alongside Dunster, offering advice after a break in the play
The Junior Investment
Successful junior development requires making maximum use of your best local talent as well as identifying and nurturing young players from far and wide. Along with staff such as Anthony Field who clock up the kilometres attending matches and carnivals, the Eels have a network of scouts, such as Tye from Queensland whom I met yesterday.
This morning, the Eels hosted 21 young players from North and South Islands of New Zealand, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Country NSW. Aged between 14 and 17, the boys have been in camp with the Eels in the lead up to the Junior Rep trials this Saturday at Revesby.
It was a tremendous opportunity to catch the senior team go through their paces in what was a valuable education in the work ethic required to become an NRL player. The players watched on as Anthony Field either answered their questions or drew their attention to certain aspects of training or play as it unfolded.
After finishing their session, Tim Mannah and Tepai Moeroa spoke to the boys about their individual preparation and that, no matter what level they get to, to always remember why they play the game – because they enjoy rugby league.
Before they took them on a tour of the facility, they also encouraged the players to ask as many questions of the Eels squad as they could about what works for them. Mannah then explained how his pre-match routine had evolved over the years.
This is the rugby league journey for out of town youngsters. Recruitment managers like Anthony Field have to make crucial decisions about when to leave certain players at home, or when to bring them down to Sydney. Some are best left at home to continue their education, some are best to be placed in a school in Sydney for the exact same reasons. Some players will enter the playing ranks at Matts level, others at Ball. More “senior” juniors are recruited for Flegg.
No matter what level they start playing for the Eels, the Parramatta development system makes decisions about what’s best for them as individuals as well as what’s best for their football development.
For anyone interested in viewing this weekend’s Junior Rep trials, you can get out to Neptune Park at Revesby, from 9am this Saturday.
(My apologies for the quality of my photos of the Junior players)
That’s another week of pre-season done and dusted.
The players would be feeling the bumps, bruises and strains. The staff were smiling.
I’m sure it will be much cooler on Monday?