We all have expectations about how the Eels will fare every season, and this year will be no different.
Last year our expectations of success were dashed faster than an NRL player’s “home movie” goes viral. We can look back and think that we were being unrealistic. Or maybe, the players got ahead of themselves with their own expectations. That’s now the past.
Looking ahead, my expectation is simple. The Eels will dig deep. I base that entirely on this pre-season.
Today, the physicality was typical of the journey over the past two and a half months.
Here’s how it went down.
In an opposed drill, the team worked on their combinations on one side of the ruck. Conversely, this meant that the opposed group were also working on their defensive decisions. The work was sharp, with praise coming for both attack and defence.
The squad was then split into their Red and Blue teams for prolonged attack/defence within the quarter. Both Taka and Evans were able to participate in full contact and each received time in both teams. Pritchard and Schneider alternated between half and dummy half for the Reds, giving each player time at hooker.
With the glut of possession, there was no shortage of questions asked by the team in attack. Whether it be from a penalty, a drop out or a scrum, repeated sets were thrown against the defence in a gruelling test of the players resolve.
The Main Event
There were no NRL referees in attendance, but there was s significant portion of the session dedicated to footy.
Were certain team selections clearer from today?
The answer to that is a definitive no.
Arthur and his coaching team were providing ample opportunities for players to push their claims for an NRL spot. Gutho and French swapped positions. Evans and Taka were both afforded time with the Blue team. Kaysa and Mahoney alternated in the top dummy half role.
During his time in the Blue team, Evans crashed over for a try between the posts. In reply, Salesi Fainga’a chased and reeled in an awkwardly bouncing high kick and then avoided the scrambling defence to score out wide for the Reds.
The defence was definitely the feature of this session, with only those in orange spared from the collisions. A special mention must be given to Reed Mahoney who continues to impress with his tackling. In one memorable shot, he delivered an into the ribs special on Ethan Parry. In doing so, he actually robbed Junior of the opportunity to register his daily hit on the young winger.
With a strong session apparently completed, the team were surprisingly (not really) handed over to Adrian Jimenez for additional conditioning.
The attitude and delivery from the players in moments like these has been the facilitator of my aforementioned expectations for this year.
Firstly the players completed an extended period of interval runs up and down the field. They were then split into forwards and backs to finish off the morning with four laps of the field, timed for good measure.
And the gold medalists?
There’s a reason that people hold captaincy roles. Clint Gutherson and Tim Mannah led their respective groups from start to finish. Their example is nothing short of outstanding.
And behind them?
In the backs, the top 5 placings were filled by Parry, Dunster, Mahoney and Brown. In the forwards, big Stefano Utoikamanu headed the chasers, followed by Fainga’a, Moeroa and Niukore. Not far behind those players was Manu Ma’u.
Then in their fatigued condition, they were split into the two teams to work unopposed through their shapes. To borrow from Parrathruandthru’s observation, the closest parallel is to say it was like watching two Captains runs.
Every day is filled with physical challenges. It tests the body and the mind.
The players continue to dig deep.
Bring on Wednesday.