The Cumberland Throw

Eels Pre-Season Training – February 5, 2020: Coaches Edition

In the final round of the 2019 season, Fox League, the NRL and the Eels collaborated to provide punters with an inner sanctum experience with Brad Arthur.

Viewers were provided with a glimpse of BA’s relationship and communication with players, his real time tactical responses and his post match analysis.

At Eels training today, spectators were treated to something very similar. It’s something that I’ve witnessed at different times over the years. But when BA and Murf worked with the edge players on attacking structures just a few metres from our vantage point, it was easily the closest we’ve come to the coaching huddle.

The overwhelming impression created was the positive vibe within the playing group. It was the perfect mix of mostly serious work, along with the coaches being able to share a laugh or two along with the players.

Obviously, I shan’t be reporting on the plays themselves. Instead I’ll focus on the coaching witnessed, along with the basic run down of the coaching responsibilities that I’ve observed during this preseason.

Session Structure

There was no opposed work today as there were a few players missing due to their participation in Thursday night’s trial. I’m assuming they would have been part of the Canterbury Cup training later in the day.

Brad Arthur

The squad was split into middles and edges. The first half of the session saw the middles work on position specific conditioning with Trent Elkin, whilst BA controlled the coaching of the edges. In the second half of the session, it was the forwards turn with BA, whilst the backs worked with Elkin. More on the roles of the assistant coaches later.

The edges were split into right and left sides, with the right the first to attack and the left acting as defenders.

Attackers were given the opportunity to select which play to run and had to quickly call it. Each play contains variations/options, based on the decisions made by the defenders. So there are structures, but the players have the responsibility of playing what’s in front of them, with the support lines run and the timing crucial to the execution of the play.

Obviously, we are at the stage of the preseason where these structures are expected to happen at pace. Players are in motion and there are mixtures of long and short passes, changes of direction etc. All the while, the defenders are moving to make the execution difficult.

Murf working with Jaeman Salmon

Inevitably, along with the successes of the attack, there’s successes of the defence. Both are coachable moments. In addition to applause and praise for success from BA and Murf, BA would pick moments where the reason for success would be emphasised. Likewise, a breakdown in the play would result in a quick analysis of what went wrong and how to correct it.

There’s not necessarily anything special in coaches doing that.

However, what was a terrific insight, and this aligned to that inner sanctum vision during 2019, was seeing the intricacies involved. BA explained to the players how small adjustments to the lines run, the timing, or the passes, would force defenders to make certain decisions, which would then open up particular opportunities to the attacker.

As the training continued, you’d literally see this unfold as certain line or pass options would result in the predicted defensive decisions. Sometimes the defence would shut it down, after all, they know what’s coming at them and it’s their job to make it difficult. Sometimes the defence couldn’t stop it. That’s the beauty of watching this coaching in action. When certain plays are run, it forces predictable defensive decisions, and working on clever options takes advantage of that.

Unfortunately, the coaching of the middle forwards didn’t happen close enough to hear anything said. Once again BA took the lead as they worked on attacking structures within the 20 metres, and the different options depending on the proximity to the line.

The Roles of The Assistant Coaches

David Kidwell at an Eels training and media session at Bankwest Stadium (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Supporters often ask me about the specific responsibilities of the assistant coaches. Are they responsible for attack or defence? Are they looking after forwards or backs? Who does what?

In simplistic terms, David Kidwell has responsibility for the forwards. Steve Murphy looks after the backs. Ryan Carr is the skills development coach and head coach for the Canterbury Cup team. Andrew Johns is the specialist spine coach.

What I witness is all of the coaches working across attack, defence and skills. Even if it’s a specific group, one might lead the work, but the others will be there helping out.

Sometimes you’ll see a session divided into groups with each of the coaches taking charge of a group, and BA moving around to observe – jumping in to speak with individuals.

Ryan Carr during his UK stint (image Love Rugby League)

At other times, especially extras, you’ll see the coaches working with a specific player or a very small group. You might witness BA working with kickers, Murf working with dummy halves, Kidwell working with players on contact technique, Carr working

with halves passing. Trent Elkin and other athletic performance staff might even jump in to assist the players with the skills work. Such extras might be initiated by the coaches; they can also be initiated by the players.

However it is structured, it’s obvious that it’s planned with precision. There’s literally a team of staff in action. The drone films the action, the GPS monitoring of players is available for players and coaches to check, rehab happens simultaneously, trainers, physios and support staff are kept busy, just as they are on match days.

Murf in match day mode

An early arrival at training will see the staff and coaches marking out the fields with cones, poles and positioning gear such as bump pads or tackle bags. When that trundle wheel is out there, you know how precise the drill or conditioning will be. A session might extend a little longer or shorter than planned, depending on player performance.

That Vibe

I mentioned earlier that there was a positive vibe in the squad. RCG referenced his enjoyment at training numerous times during this week’s media call. It was certainly evident in what was witnessed in this session.

Attacking and defensive successes were celebrated by the players. Players had the opportunity to ask questions or make suggestions. In addition to the coaches feedback, you could hear the players talk to each other about what worked and what didn’t, and the adjustments they needed to make. A touch of banter gave the training the necessary mix of hard work and fun.

The player that surprised me was Maika Sivo. For a relatively inexperienced NRL player, he seems surprisingly relaxed, but at the same time very coachable. He’s very much part of the banter that’s typical of any team, and enjoys adding his own two bob’s worth. At the same time, he’s a good listener to the advice offered by the coaches and the senior players. I think we can all look forward to another exciting year from the big fella.

The Trial

Don’t forget, it’s a 6pm kick off for tonight’s Canterbury Cup trial against Blacktown at Ringrose. It looks like being a wet track, and undercover seating is limited, so an umbrella might be in order for spectators.

TCT will be there, and conditions permitting, Forty and I will have a pre-match discussion, followed by Forty’s live blog call of the match.

Please join us.

Eels forever!


(Images courtesy of Eels media or as credited)

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That’s an awesome write up, sixties.
Things seem to be more positive with each report. The live stream link of the trial will be available on here I’m guessing?
Thanks again for the report, much appreciated.


God help them if they have to play in the rain we are getting up here! It’s absolutely bucketing down and heading your way.


Any smokies for round one 60s or you feel it will be the tried and tested and up to guys such as Stone,Stefano or Oregon to force their way into side.


Very interesting to see that you think Waqa will be OK for R1. Would be great if that is so. Been wondering if he is doing any form of contact work yet.


Thanks Sixties. Eels fans are blessed to have you and TCT team.

!0 Year Member

As always thanks for the updates. They get me pumped and ready for the season. As a long time supporter. I have seen it all. I already knew other teams would step up against this year as we finished 5th which would breed contempt for us and the playing squad (Let’s never forget 2018 where we crumbled under this pressure) teams just do not respect us. Then low and behold Freddie comes in with the kiss of death….. Yes my fellow supporters we potentially have 7 players in line for origin….FMD…… teams are already up to play us now they… Read more »


My family and I can not wait for the season to start. Everyone knows I am a huge BA fan but I am most excited by the role Andrew Johns can have on our spine. So often young play makers come in and look like superstars and never really progress. In the NRL we have a few playmakers like that. Andrew Johns went from being a talented young player who won some games for his team , to a playmaker/ leader who controlled the results in games. I hope he can pass on the mindset and skill development needed to… Read more »


Well said Shelley. My wife and I are contemplating a trip down to Bega also. It will depend on how we can manage work commitments though. We have discussed the need to make it a minimum four, perhaps five day excursion so that we can enjoy the time away as well as support the local area, pubs, restaurants, B&B’s and coastal activities. Do you have any recommendations Shelley? The last time I was in the area I camped on the beach at Tathra with family friends in 1966. It was a 2 week holiday that I can still recall with… Read more »


Hi Rowdy,

The Harbourview Motel at Bermagui is nice. Location excellent. It is about 40 minute drive south to Bega along the coast or 50 minutes drive inland going through Cobargo.
There are some other nice places in Bermagui

We are staying the weekend ( taking Friday off work) at Batesman Bay. ( about 2 hours drive to Bega)

My parents lost there home at Malua Bay and are staying with us at Huskisson, so I will take them down to catch up with friends and we will all go to the footy on Saturday.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x