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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Images courtesy of Eels media or as credited)