You know it’s getting close to the season when I cease to report on any of the conditioning component of the pre-season training session. Blue vs Gold football action was the dominant feature as the Eels kicked off the new week of work – no surprise at all with the first Canterbury Cup trial scheduled for this Thursday night.
So how good was the session?
For the Blues, it was outstanding.
For the Golds, it’s been better.
Over the last four weeks, the opposed sessions have been highly contested affairs. Today it was a one sided romp for the Blues. They flexed their muscle, and were a class above.
Many would be happy to read this, after all, an NRL top 13/17 should hold the upper hand over their lower grade colleagues. With the Eels expected to challenge for a top four spot in 2020, it would seem a non-negotiable.
But the counterpoint is just as important. The NRL players need to be tested in these sessions. It makes for better preparation. And it’s often achieved as the NRL middle forwards interchange between teams rather than spending time on the sideline.
Unfortunately there was little contest this afternoon.
Not in attack and certainly not in defence.
Putting it into context, it is perhaps too harsh to criticise the opposition facing the Blues today. The reality is that the Gold team have done their job admirably over the preceding weeks. They’ve pushed the Blue team to the limit, and have earned due praise.
Therefore, let’s consider this an aberration and instead focus on the many positives from this session.
* A sublime ball to Matterson around half way (from Nathan Brown I believe) puts the big fella into open spaces. As the cover converges, Matto finds Mahoney in support on the inside, and he sprints in for the opening try.
* A barnstorming run by Lane carries defenders over the line for the second try.
* Reed threads the needle with a pass to Junior close to the line, and the rampaging front rower crashes over for try three.
* Taka makes a one on one tackle following a kick, then steals the ball in the process and crosses out wide for try four.
* With the Golds attacking the Blues line, Moses takes a superb intercept and sprints 95 metres untouched for try five.
* Gutho links with Sivo just before halfway, and big Maika sprints into open pastures, then puts a classic in and away on the Gold fullback and scores the sixth try in the corner. Restraint was needed to not chant Si-Vo after watching that!
* Dylan Brown brings down Marata (who was in the Gold jersey at this stage) in an amazing legs tackle close to the line.
* Two tackles later Marata deadset rampages through the Blues defence for the try. He runs onto the ball with such power that it literally appears as if nothing will be able to stop him.
The Final Word
Everything seemed to click into gear for the Blues today. Even allowing for a less than ideal Gold performance, it was a composed and professional display from the top 17.
The completions seemed high and the talk out on the field was impressive. After scoring, the players were reminding each other about their goals from the kick off.
If the players were fired up on Friday, then today it was a controlled aggressive display.
On reflection, there were many aspects of the Blue performance that we witnessed during 2019. The highlights from Lane, Brown x 2, Moses, Gutho and Sivo were exactly what readers would probably expect me to report during a preseason.
So if I needed to pinpoint a difference for this preseason thus far, I’d suggest that it might be an improved platform laid by the forwards. And Matterson and RCG will be important additions.
Obviously, the proof will only be seen on NRL match days. Such an observation is only reflective of training track form. Still, you have to train it as the foundation for bringing it.
The Trial – An Important Announcement
Regular TCT readers might have noted the times given for this week’s Canterbury Cup trial at Ringrose in previous reports. A late change to the time has since been brought about by the cancellation of the Ron Massey Cup trial.
The new kick off time is now Thursday, 6pm, so if you’re thinking of catching this match, please arrive early.
I’m expecting this to be a trial in every sense of the word, with a multitude of players used – established players, those trialing for contracts and a few Flegg players thrown in for good measure.
Players such as Hollis, Hughes and Schneider were involved in a combined Flegg/Canterbury Cup training session that I watched yesterday, so I expect them to be involved at some stage.
See you there!