The Cumberland Throw

Eels Pre-Season Training – January 13, 2020: The Battle Heats Up!

Mick Cronin’s toe-poke! 

Just when you thought you could lock in the Eels bench spots for their Top 17, the action heated up at this morning’s training.

In what was, for me, an unexpected opposed session, Stefano Utoikamanu and Kane Evans took the battle up a notch in performances that left our spectator group in no doubt that statements were being made.

After facing the challenge from Oregon Kaufusi last week, all praise must go to Evans for leaving little in the tank today.

From the sprint and strength runs, to the defensive contact, the tall prop demanded attention.

Day one of this week’s training unfolded like this:


Attacking Shapes

The squad drilled hit ups, offloads, and backline spreads for about 15 minutes. Watching the team rehearse these plays, you can see that every player has a role to play, whether it be actually handling the ball or simply being a body in motion. The ball skills of the squad are also noticeable during such drills.


Running Mechanics

Go Kane!

Over a sixty metre course, the squad looked to hit close to top pace for around 40 metres. Amongst the middle forwards, Kane Evans was a standout. He has an unusual running style, but at top pace there would be few who’d go close to matching him. One who was trying his best to do so was RCG – he’s deceptively fast.

Marata Niukore looked to be the fastest in his group – mostly edge forwards. No doubt this throws back to his days as a centre.

In the outside backs, Fergo smashed the others off the park. He hits top speed very quickly and it looks effortless.



The referees were again in attendance to control the session. It was Blue (NRL) vs Gold (CC) with some forwards interchanging between the two.

Like last week, the contact was heavy – I’d estimate it to be at about 80% of NRL level impact, though how you back off by about 20% is a good question!

The pace of the hit ups caught the eye as much as the contact. In some opposed sessions, it’s not unusual for a hit up to ease into the defence. As was the case last Wednesday, if the forwards charge onto the ball with venom, the defence has no option but to hit hard.

Stefano hits it up

Today, Stefano Utoikamanu carried the ball with serious intent. A couple of his carries left defenders strewn behind him, with Harry Duggan looking the worse for wear after a big collision.

Kane Evans left his mark on a few players in both attack and defence. It would come as no surprise to anybody in attendance that he’s featuring heavily in this report.

As you’d expect, the Blue team found the ascendancy in the contest, and registered three tries. The first was scored by Taka after a play down the right edge. The second was registered by Matterson after a tap back by Fergo off a kick.

Mitch Moses

The final try was classy to watch. A shift to the left around halfway saw Gutho inject himself into the line, before the ball found Lane in space. He then linked with Dylan Brown on the the inside which was followed by another inside pass to Mahoney who jinked and weaved his way to cross under the posts.

Despite the contest through the middle, the player who most impressed me during the opposed was Mitch Moses. Though he was doing what you’d expect a top grade half to do in such a session, there was a genuine “presence” about his work.


Strength Runs

During the morning, the players were split into position groups and completed runs of approximately 120 to 180 metres. The middle forwards were doing the shorter distances, with the outside backs running the furthest.

An aerodynamic King Gutho

It looked like the players were expected to run at around three-quarter pace. Once more, Evans was outstanding in his group. Even when he was forced to start behind the others, he’d surge through the pack to lead them home. I’ll also give a tick to Oregon Kaufusi and Sam Hughes for their consistent efforts.

It goes without saying that Gutho left the other backs in his wake – their task made more difficult by his new streamlined appearance. There are those who believe that the King is one of the slower fullbacks in the Premiership. Whilst he’s not blessed with exceptional pace, his advantage is the capacity to maintain top pace over a longer distance. When he gets into space, it’s generally only the noted hot-steppers (see Xerri and Ponga) who will run him down.

Final Word

It’s becoming very apparent that the Eels are well served with middle forwards. Besides apparent lock-ins like Junior, RCG, Niukore, Alvaro and Paulo, others such as Evans, Kaufusi and Utoikamanu are pushing their claims. Young middles like Hollis, Hughes and Duggan haven’t looked out of place during this preseason, whilst Gower, Terepo and Davey would all like to push for a berth in 2020.

Gower might be in his final season, and Utoikamanu has a contract with the Tigers for 2021, but I’d be surprised to see too much recruitment action for middles in the next couple of years. The challenge might well be the retention!

Eels forever!


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What have I missed? Where does the toe poke reference come from?

Jpe Briffa

Thanks mate. starting to heat up.hope to catch up on Saturday

Jeff Cooke

As a long time Parra tragic, I always start off with great hopes for the coming season. This year is no different except that there’s an extra dose of confidence in the air.
Thanks for the great reports TCT.


I certainly enjoyed my fist visit to the new training paddock today and they didn’t let me down. That was a solid hit out and support the worthy praise heaped on KEVANS or Winx as I heard him being renamed by some larikin in attendance! The dirty R word (retention) is going to be a problem with our young players IMHO. The fruits of the last 5 years of building youngsters and the desire to be (dare I say it) a “development club” will only increase the risk of this and want it or not, we may end up with… Read more »


“ Utoikamanu has a contract with the Tigers for 2021”

A whisper on the streets says this may no longer be a certainty….


What’s the word here sixties, is this an actual chance of happening?

Achilles' Eel

There must be something brewing considering the article in the Telegraph today. Now why write a piece like that? It sounds like someone not affiliated with the Parramatta club is seeking to control the narrative surrounding Stefano’s immediate future in the game.


I think technically Stephano can get out of it if he wants to. The reason is there is no way when he was approached was it within the boundaries of the November time table. I suspect that will not be discussed publicly because who knows who is guilty of the same thing. The other aspect is the opinion that it was driven by Stephano’s parents and was not all his wishes, His current efforts imply he wants to make a statement, he could just go through the motions if he doesn’t want to stay. Its all about how he sees… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Its a catch 22 or more Pops, he is on a development contract for this year at the eels, and with the slow resigning of players last year of those off contract end of 2020, it was like a dogs breakfast of feeding across the whole of the NRL, personally I do not believe that a contracted player should be allowed to be signed before mid season of their last year at a particular club. Islanders are very much a different culture and generally have strong family ties, also as a young kid influenced strongly by the family overall. Somewhere… Read more »


Nice work


Hopefully fergo can teach Utoikamanu how to backflip


What can you tell us about Duggan? Age size etc? Does he have the same potentual as Hollis?


I have been told he goes ok. I will ask my colleague more about him.


David Hollis is from waughope nsw

Parramatta Tragic

The Flying Wedge!
That was a great report. I particularly enjoyed the comparisons in regards to pace. I went to a training session on the oval behind Cumberland one afternoon and the coach had 100 metre sprints going but only two runners at a time. I thought it was particularly cruel he pitted Owen Stephens against Phil Mann time after time after time….So by the look of your report sixties, is Fergo the fastest player in the club? Somewhat surprised by that as I thought Waqa may have him covered. Thoroughly enjoyed the read.


I reckon Moses over 20 would be the quickest.
Sixties, apparently Maiko Sivo did not participate yesterday, any truth in that and how does he seem to be applying himself as he was apparently well behind in conditioning.


I have no idea about this theme, but…The Ray Price rebound!


And the John Pearl bomb……

Trouser Eel

The Eric Grothe insurance claim!


The Brett Kenny show and go.

Parramatta Tragic

The Reynolds/Quayle move


Good man Quayle; great administrator.


Now thats a bit dirty trouser, you forgot Mares.

Colin Hussey

Great report sixties, just wondering though about Gutho as to he seems to be getting some bad hair days in his resume`, maybe the new look could give him an edge as no wind restistence for a while. Gues he could be given a prickly tag over the next week or two, its certainly looks like he’s at a whiter shade of pale on the dome.


seems like a good way to get rid of a bad haircut! LOL


Our depth is awesome. Having players fighting for spots can only be good for us. Kane copped a lot of flack for his poor form in 2018 even though recovering from a busted arm.His form in the back end of last year gave us hope that we may have an enforcer in our pack, he also used his lanky frame well with some great runs, hopefully he has realized what he is capable of and can keep up the good work this year. Likewise Moses.Hopefully getting voted best half last year makes him hungry to go one better, best half,… Read more »


Enjoyed that report sixties. Competition for spots by the centre forwards is good news – highlights the problems of 2018 when the same out of form forwards were consistently picked.
I like the mix of ages in the forwards too – the established players must be looking over their shoulder at the pups coming thru.
Do you sense much change in the defensive systems for the forwards? Does Kidwell have much involvement?


Top notch report. Thanks for your in-depth review – I get more insight from you than my lad who is in the squad. It’s difficult to get a grunt out of him.

Thanks again.


Thanks again Sixties for the report and observations. It’s really good to read about the training and intricacies of it all. Prop positions in a few yrs time as mentioned may be a headache or two for the coaching staff and retention committee. This is something we have not had the luxury of in the past, and i guess after 2020 we will know more as to who has been moved on etc. there are a lot of young props on the way up and I hope we can provide some good depth around the backs too. Great to read… Read more »

paul taylor

Great read once again Sixties. The more I watch them the more I see how we are changing. We are creating space and opportunities for the real danger men, BLAKE, JENNINGS and the finishers. If those two can get one on one with their opposites they have the footwork and speed to create havoc. Brown and Moses passing games means there is going to be very good pickings. Only way we can beat the top sides is playing up tempo, through the corridors and making sure our passes stick and wingers finish. We have the best running half in the… Read more »


I did not see Sivo in the opposed session.?is something wrong


He was sick and was given 3days off to recover .He will be back next week


You’ve raised expectations now sixties, where is today’s wrap up? 😉


No problem mate. I do admit to checking in here over and over on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons!

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