I’m not sure whether that instruction was given this morning, but you could be forgiven for thinking that it was. It was no place for orange shirts out there in what a highly competitive, heavy hitting, opposed session.
Indeed, if last Friday had its disappointing moments, then this week was its antithesis.
The footy was played at a stunning pace, with the middle forwards in both teams carrying the ball with venom. It was no surprise that the errors in the session mostly occurred in some of the biggest collisions.
There were surprised expletives about the ferocity of the defence from those of us watching. There was delight on the field when a turnover was forced. There might even have been a player or two looking for payback as the game continued!!!
It’s what can happen when things get serious. And it makes for entertaining viewing.
In a morning of highlights, I’ve selected the following:
* A try to Haze Dunster who demonstrated tremendous awareness and pace in chasing a kick to the corner, winning the contest for the ball against Gutherson.
* Gutherson quickly redeeming himself with his own kick chase, pressuring two Gold players into an error and swooping on the loose ball for the try.
* The improved composure of the Blues. Last week I was critical of the pushed plays. This week, there were a number of occasions when the ball player took the tackle rather than delivering a pressure pass. Last week this caused far too many turnovers.
* A heads up play from Lane off a kick off to get his leg (it’s long enough!) over the sideline as he caught the ball to earn a penalty.
Without doubt the big moment of the day was the try to Michael Jennings. Attacking just outside the 20 metre line, the Blues shifted the ball to the left. The speed and accuracy of the passes gave Jennings space. His acceleration off the mark was stunning, as he got outside his man to cross in the corner.
* Nathan Brown was outstanding, especially in attack.
It was everything we’ve come to expect of Browny. His charges into the line challenged the defence in every single carry. The reason is simple – it’s all about deception. Defenders are forced to commit to the tackle as the talented lock appears to be galloping directly into them, but he’s then able to pass or step late, or alternatively continue the line he’s running.
* RCG continues to impress.
I have been surprised by the leg speed of Campbell-Gillard. He seems to bend the line with every foray through the ruck, and it’s the pace of his runs that gets him right to the advantage line, and then drives the defenders back. It was more of the same again today.
* Ryan Matterson will be a point of difference.
In this session he used his big frame to great effect on the edge of the ruck. As a former half, he has the ball skills to link and set up his outside man. However, when he takes on the defence, his pace and size make him very difficult to contain. He already seems to be forging an impressive combination with Moses.
* Stefano Utoikamanu continues to press his claims.
Today the big unit left his mark in both attack and defence. It’s rare that a defender doesn’t reel out of a tackle on Stefano. His opponents might also be carrying a few bruises after his hits.
I rated the Blues kicking game as one of the best of this pre-season. The variety of kicks minimised any predictability and kept the Gold team under pressure.
Though the Gold team are often strengthened through the interchanging of NRL forwards, the form they are exhibiting is a promising sign for the prospects of the Eels reserve grade team. We’ve witnessed some of the second tier contracted players in action in throughout January, but we’ll learn more about them and others in the upcoming trials.
In the meantime, their performances are raising the quality of the opposed sessions.
Only six more sleeps till the trial at Ringrose.