For much of this pre-season I’ve highlighted the inspirational contributions of the Eels younger brigade. I make no apologies for that. They’ve added a new dimension to the preparations for the year ahead. The tight bond and determination of these players has added a transfusion of energy and positivity to the Old Saleyards headquarters.
In retrospect, I’ve provided very little insight to the work of the established players. Maybe I’ve taken their efforts for granted. Maybe they’ve been overshadowed on the training paddock by these youthful intruders.
Today it was impossible to ignore some of our seasoned campaigners.
In a session which consisted of skills development, attacking drills and opposed footy, a number of the experienced players stood tall.
Manu Ma’u provided a reminder of his aggressive running and underrated passing game. One particularly powerful charge at the line resulted in a try as he got his arms free for the offload and put the support player across next to the posts.
Tepai Moeroa was playing a middle role and presented a difficult target for the defence with charges that showcased his pace and step. His 110kg frame is larger than the 2018 version and today continued his impressive pre-season.
Tim Mannah was heavily involved in today’s contest as he demonstrated how to earn a quick play the ball on the back of strong hit ups. He also backed up the play to score a try.
Blake Ferguson was a steadying influence in defence, keeping his team mates focussed with his talk. His carries are replicating his form for the Roosters and he can be heard mentoring others on positioning and how to take runs.
On a side note, Fergo makes for an interesting study on the training paddock. He has the capacity to switch from focussed and inspirational mentor and leader during the tough grind, to joker during the down times. I see his presence as a major influence in 2019.
At 22, Marata Niukore is still new to the NRL but he was another to shine this morning, and just like Tepai, his pre-season has indicated further development in his game. An impressive break and offload in this opposed session resulted in a try assist for the Cook Island International.
The defensive collisions were big, and Daniel Alvaro featured in a number of these. But it wasn’t just the big hits. There was desperation on the try line as the Gold were determined to hold their line intact. There were a couple of sloppy moments in the Canberra trial so the commitment evidenced today was a positive sign that the team are working to restore a defensive grit.
But even with such a positive session for certain individuals, the most impressive aspect of the morning was the support play. In my opinion it was the best of this pre-season, so much so that it unexpectedly caught my eye.
To elaborate, I wanted to watch today’s training from an individual perspective – to write a report which shone the light on the outstanding performers from the day. And this happened.
However, virtually every half chance or line break was backed up. And the result was an impressive collection of tries. Yes it was just an opposed session, but the habit of support is a winning one – and I’m hoping it’s going to become addictive.
And for those who question the challenge of opposed sessions, some insight was provided by Chris Lawrence when speaking on Triple M last weekend. Questioned about the secret trial between the Tigers and the Dogs, he said that it was good to take on an opponent who didn’t know your plays. When taking on team mates in opposed sessions, the breaks can be harder to come by because the plays are known, the alternate plays are also known and the individual player traits are embedded in the memory banks.
There’s few surprises playing against your own.
Can the Eels deliver more of their training track form to the playing field this year? The upcoming trial against Panthers is still just that – a trial. However, I’ll be looking for moments in the trial that are indicative of the direction the squad has worked for during this pre-season.
Fans will get to see whether the players can deliver encouraging signs against their opponents this Saturday night.
See you there.