Fellow Eels supporters,
Are you ready to move past the cricket season?
Does the lack of collision sport over summer leave you hanging for the NRL Premiership to kick off?
If, like me, you’ve answered yes to both questions, then today’s training session would have left your footy cravings temporarily satiated.
For the first time this preseason, spectators at Kellyville were treated to full contact opposed work – and the sound of the impacts left our crew grimacing and confident that there was no shortage of players looking to make a statement.
Make no mistake, there was no respite from conditioning. The running and the Malcolms were tough enough on their own, and today their purpose was probably to add an almighty dose of fatigue into the footy mix – not that it took any edge off the tackles.
In a session that lasted just on two hours, it was probably an even split between footy and conditioning.
The major part of the opposed session ebbed and flowed with possession shared between the Blue (NRL) and the Gold (CC) teams. Though it wasn’t a complete replication of match conditions, referees were in control and sets were played out as they would in a match – ie working for field position when deep in their own territory, looking to score or earn a repeat set when in attack. There were enough players available for each team to have interchange players. Conditioning runs interspersed with the footy simulated match fatigue.
Strong defence was the major feature and unlike some other opposed work, the carries into the defence were at pace, and there was little held back in the tackles. Accordingly, tries were difficult to come by.
To be honest, I was amazed by the tenacity of the Gold forwards. Apart from a ferocious charge from Junior Paulo between the two 40 metre lines which left some defenders in his wake, the young players like Hollis, Hughes, Duggan and Utoikamanu really stood up in the contest. Dummy half duties were shared between Davies and Schneider, with Stone playing on the edge.
In attack, the Blue spine looked particularly sharp, with Gutho heavily involved in everything from shifts to kick chases. Unfortunately, a belter of a pass from Gutho to Sivo which resulted in a try was ruled forward by the referee. In another instance, an overlap was created down the left wing, and Sivo high stepped into the clear, only to be brought down in an extraordinary tackle, initially by Will Smith and then with a couple of assistants. The big winger would have felt that one!
The opposed sessions are increasingly showcasing some of the attacking skills instilled during Joey John’s specialist coaching. It’s interesting to watch him work with the players and then witness them execute as they did today.
Towards the conclusion of this session, the Blue team were given several sets inside the 20 metre zone to hone their plays. It led to an impressive try by Mitch Moses. As was evidenced in 2019, when Moses takes on the defence line at pace, he also does so without fear. He must rate as the best running half in the NRL.
As the session wrapped up, those of us in attendance reflected on the level of intensity shown. The players made a statement – some pushing for a first grade berth, others looking to validate the decision by the Eels to offer them an NRL, training, or development deal.
Me? I just thoroughly enjoyed getting a footy fix like this in early January.