Earlier this week, the Parramatta Eels announced that NRL Immortal, Andrew “Joey” Johns had joined the club in a specialist coaching role.
Given the youth and talent in the Eels spine, his addition to the football department could prove to be one of the most significant in recent seasons.
Today’s training session was my first opportunity to observe Johns at work – and I must say that I felt privileged to be there. I’ll attempt to write an overview without going into specifics. Unfortunately, there’ll be no way of doing justice to the skills session and the mentoring he provided.
I was equally as privileged to watch Ryan Matterson address a group of high school students after training. As a teacher, I’ve seen more than my fair share of such talks, but this was special.
More on Joey and Matto later in this report, after all, there was a group of players getting smashed out on the training track!
Taking It Up A Notch – Or Seven!
Yesterday, I reported that the Wednesday session asked more questions of the players than any other session had during this preseason.
That status lasted less than 24 hours!
It was an early start on the field (8am), though it should be emphasised the players are regularly on site by 5:30am for other training requirements. Given the heat forecast for the day, and the work that lay ahead, this was probably a good call.
After the warm up, it was basically a solid hour of running.
Of course it was broken up into repeated sets of courses that looked to be just over 800 and 600 metres. I have to be approximate about this because the courses had subtle changes with different marker points to run around.
It wouldn’t surprise me if this is part of Elkin’s mantra of getting the players to think during the run. He doesn’t want players to run mindlessly, just as the coaches don’t want the players to be mindless robots in a game. He wants them thinking about what they’re doing.
Rest times between runs were interesting. It involved doing a handful of Malcolms!
The conditioning standout today was definitely Rhys Davies. The Canterbury Cup half from the last two seasons has obviously decided to make a statement about his desire to compete.
Just behind Davies was Kyle Schneider. He chased Davies home in virtually every run. He was closely followed by Johnny Fonua, who ultimately led a couple of the later runs.
The best of the big men early on were Danny Alvaro, Stefano Utoikamanu and Oregon Kaufusi. In the latter runs Gowie pushed up towards the front of the forwards.
As stated, this was easily the toughest conditioning session of the preseason. In retrospect, it seems like this week has built to this point, as yesterday was but a prelude to what was to come.
In the context of the gruelling conditioning, it seems almost irrelevant to report on this component of the day.
For the first part, the squad was split into teams of about 9. Given the smaller size of the teams, only two-thirds of the field was used. They worked on left and right side attack and defence.
Rather than full impact, the tackles were mostly grab for this drill. It was more about reading and positioning in defence than contact. But don’t worry, the contact aspect gets plenty of attention in other drills.
That said, on a couple of occasions my attention was straying, only to be brought back in focus by the sound of an unexpected collision. Sometimes, you just have to put on a hit!
Following that, the squad worked in compact defensive lines. The ball carriers were looking to win the carry. The defenders were encouraged to communicate as they worked together in the tackles.
What a tough ask after the earlier work!
What does specialist halves coaching provide?
Precision passing for a start. Body movement and the mechanics of different types of passes – eg legs, hips, head positions – get plenty of attention. And those passes – long, short, out the back, at the line – variations of each are drilled according to the position of the defence and the support.
Communication was also an important aspect of the coaching. The halves had to ensure that they were calling plays.
Johns’ session finished with a skill for which he was well renowned – the kick. From there, Joey went to observe the conclusion of the squad’s training.
For obvious reasons, I won’t go into specifics about how Johns goes about his work or what might be added to the arsenal of the halves.
However, I can assure readers that the session was interactive. On a number of occasions, Johns was asked by players for very specific advice. I considered this to be indicative of how they were invested in getting as much out of his mentoring as possible.
Matto You Champion
A group of students from Castle Hill High School were guests at training today. This followed on from Wednesday’s visit by Parramatta Marist.
The first players to spend time with the students were Shaun Lane and Dylan Brown. They said g’day, spoke to the group and had a few photos. Typically, Brown noticed a couple of students sitting away from the group and sat with them to chill for a bit.
Ethan Parry then came over to meet the boys. He had a chat, a few laughs and answered a collection of questions, even about how long it had taken him to cultivate his mullet.
Ryan Matterson was the next player to meet the boys. At first it was the typical player question and answers. But then one question from a student led to what was probably the most impressive address from a player to a group of students that I’ve ever witnessed.
I won’t go into the specifics of what was said, but the reaction from others who witnessed it was the same. Ryan Matterson has returned to the Eels as a major asset, both on and off the field.
There’s no training tomorrow, and that might not come as a surprise after today’s workload.
See you next week.