Every story has a beginning.
When you’re talking about a club with over seventy years of history, that might seem like an inappropriate cliche to use. But when the setting is a new training base that will eventually be one of the premier Centres of Excellence in Australian sport, the story is probably worthy of new volume status rather than simply “next chapter”.
Today marked day 1 at the Eels new training centre at Kellyville. Modular buildings now house both Eels administration and the football department. Though these buildings are only temporary, the step up from the Saleyards facilities is already significant. By the time the permanent structure and match field are completed, the centre will be the home of the Eels for men’s and women’s junior and senior football, as well as a superb community asset.
Though the turf is not quite ready on a couple of the fields, by late January three training fields will be available to train on.
With both Michael Jennings and Clint Gutherson officially back at training, it’s now all hands on deck as the Eels begin their final week prior to the Christmas break.
Probably more than half of today’s field session was dedicated to conditioning. This included both Gutherson and Jennings working on their own with what appeared to be individualised conditioning and assessment.
Running mechanics was an early feature. This was the first time that I’d been able to observe the mechanics work from a side-on perspective. The players build up to top speed and sprint for distances of around 50 metres.
Two players to catch the eye were Kane Evans and Ray Stone. When Evans gets the high knee lift going he absolutely motors, and it’s quite a sight. Likewise, Stoney surprised with his pace, running past some players that I thought would have him covered.
The squad was then split into three groups – outside backs, edges/spine, and middles. Each group was set a distance (between around 120 to 180 metres) to sprint in a specific time. By the time the players returned to the starting point, they were immediately dispatched on their next sprint.
Credit must be awarded to the big units this morning. Anybody who suspected that the departing Stefano Utoikamanu wouldn’t be giving his best might need to think again. The young prop really strode out in his group, finishing either first or top 3 in every run.
Other forwards to put their hand up were Danny Alvaro, Oregon Kaufusi and Sam Hughes. As we witnessed last season, Polar struggled to play at his best after putting on some bulk for 2019. He has stripped that weight and his increased mobility is showing on the training paddock.
Oregon Kaufusi looks to be showing the benefit of the previous pre-season and last season’s NRL experience. He turned up on day one in tremendous shape and seems to be making a statement about being ready to take the next step.
I thought it was important to give Sam Hughes a mention today. Both he and Dave Hollis are imposing figures, even amongst NRL players, and they’ve only just graduated from SG Ball. They’re in their first full time preseason, and like last year’s group, have obviously done some preparation to get ready for the demands of NRL conditioning.
Hughes was one of today’s conditioning standouts. Like Stefano, he was among the leading players in every run, and looks to have surprising pace. I’d never seen him in open spaces in junior reps, so I wasn’t expecting him to stride out as he did today. I’m not sure what grade he and big Dave will start in – likely Flegg – but they are bound for something much higher.
Credit must also be given to a few of the more fleet footed backs. Gutho, Dunster, Parry, Smith, Moses, Salmon and Dylan Brown all had their moments to shine. On reflection, underline the King and set his name in bold & italics. Gutherson has rapidly reminded everyone that he’s the benchmark when it comes to fitness. How good is it to have the captain set such standards, and others in the squad busting their arse to beat him!
With conditioning behind them, the squad was split into red and blue teams for relentless red zone defence. Today, the Blue team contained most of the predicted starters for 2020 and they were first to defend their line against extended possession. For good measure they were put through a set of Malcolms before the defence began.
The attacking sets began from line drop outs, scrums or six again calls. From recollection, the Red team didn’t cross the line during their time in possession – something that should be a non-negotiable against players mostly expected to play Canterbury Cup in 2020.
Conversely, when the Blue team became the designated attacking team, the tries initially came with a rush. Matto, Taka and Fergo quickly crossed the line, but things became a little scrappy from that point. Undoubtedly the coaches would have walked away with a couple of additions to the “to do” list.
After more Malcolms and extras the first field session at Kellyville was done and dusted.
Let’s consider page 1, chapter 1 now read.
I’m tipping that what lies ahead will be a best seller.
Credit to Eels media for these superb photos.