How would it be possible to top what was on show in Wednesday’s opposed session?
The contact had been just below NRL match intensity, so there were undoubtedly aches, pains and sore limbs recovering on Thursday. More of the same would not be possible, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching BA’s coaching – maximum use is always made of scheduled times.
With marker cones at the ready, and trundle wheel in hand, Trent Elkin’s early appearance on the field signalled that there would be a decent conditioning component. Soon after, as Joey Johns joined the remainder of the coaching staff, it was apparent that footy skills would also be on the agenda.
Today, Joey’s advice would not be reserved to a small select group. The immortal’s influence would extend to the entire squad.
Later, the Prince and the King would take centre stage.
Here’s how the session unfolded:
Equal parts attack and defence, it was a challenge to decide which aspect to focus my attention on during the early part of the session. Defensive decision making features highly on my must watch list, but checking out how the attack was implementing some of Joey’s coaching in an opposed scenario was difficult to ignore.
The squad was split into left and right side players, with the left sides getting the first use of the ball for about 15 to 20 minutes, with the right sides getting their shot after that. The coaches split up and positioned themselves behind both the attacking and defending lines.
At times the attack was like clockwork. The players in motion and shifts had the defence (grab rather than collision) stretched, opening up opportunities for line breaks.
Though these rehearsed plays were all started from a similar part of the field, there were variations executed. With some plays, the input from Andrew Johns was apparent, with the ball work resembling some of the drills seen in his sessions. Variations of the 2019 season playbook were also executed.
To explain this further, every team has signature plays. They might be strong on a certain side of the field, base attacking moves around a particular player, throw outside/inside passes around the ruck, work for crash plays close to the line. What makes some teams more successful than others is not just the timing of the play and the skill involved in the execution, but also having different options for key players to take, based on what’s in front of them. The opposition might expect something, which the attack sells to them, but then something different is delivered.
So, at training, when it seems like the defence should be shutting down an attack that appears to be staging the same play time and again, it’s actually more challenging because, just like in a game, it is often executed in different ways.
Consequently, today there was just as much praise from the coaches for defensive success as there was for line breaks. To be honest, the players seemed to enjoy claiming the bragging rights when the attack was shut down.
A wise observer noted Andrew Johns speaking with Junior Paulo after a particular play. Junior was running a line in support which didn’t quite work. No doubt there was some valuable advice delivered.
Fun(?) and Games
After concluding the left/right side drills, it was conditioning time. However, between their running requirements, the squad was kept fresh with some footy. And in case you were wondering, after Wednesday’s heavy contact, it was two hand touch today.
Players are like kids. Create some sort of game scenario, and no matter how exhausting, they’re going to enjoy that more than running set distances.
The squad was divided into two sides with an equal split of NRL and Canterbury Cup players to ensure the talent was balanced.
The first game had sets only lasting for three tackles. With a kick delivered on the third tackle, attacking players were often still getting into position when they were required to chase a kick. It was literally back to back kick chases. You can imagine the conditioning which comes from this game. Eventually one team would be too slow to get back in support after a kick and the third tackle would be upon them with little ground gained and their opposition would gain possession from a poor kick.
The next game was similarly three tackles, but there was no kick at the end of the set. Instead, the attacking team could earn an extra tackle by executing a certain number of passes on the last. In this game, instead of chasing kicks, the players needed to present themselves in support.
The final game was drop-off touch. After making their touch, the defender had to run around a marker pole on the sideline before re-joining the play. This keeps giving an advantage to the attacking team. If they can execute a quick play, they can potentially take a second defender out of the play.
Condition(K)ing Versus The Prince of Egypt
The majority of today’s pure conditioning involved numerous sets of approximately 400 metres each. The distances were slightly different (varying by 20-40 metres) according to the player’s position. Eg – the backs ran a different distance to the middle forwards.
With a staggered start for the groups and different finishing points, it was difficult to give credit to all outstanding performers. However, the usual crew of Gutherson, Davies, Schneider, Dylan Brown and Alvaro all maintained a high standard.
It was good to hear the calls of encouragement amongst the players, and Gutherson was in full voice exhorting maximum effort from his colleagues.
On occasions at training, players might be put on the exercise bikes rather than running. You’ll often see a number of bikes on the sideline – just as you do in games. In the latter part of today’s session, Moses was one of these players and this did not sit well with a certain Clint Gutherson. Needless to say there was banter aplenty – which was a bit of fun for the players, staff and anyone watching.
A few laughs was a tremendous way to conclude a demanding first week.