Did the NRL Nines nail its unofficial mission statement – whetting your appetite for the season ahead?
Whether or not it was a success, the Perth event is done and dusted and has now moved into that rear-view mirror, rapidly disappearing from our sight. The bonus – all players returned home fighting fit.
NRL teams are currently in the preseason downhill run – tapering their work to suit their upcoming trials. For the Eels, that means a Canterbury Cup hit-out at Ringrose this Friday, and the highly publicised clash with Penrith at Bega on February 29.
What does training look like for the Eels this week?
Yesterday was one of those rare afternoon training runs. Perhaps rare is the wrong adjective, given that during 2019 the Eels moved times around to suit certain match times. However, from a preseason perspective, late afternoon training is not commonplace.
In a session which was about 75 minutes in duration, there was an extended warm up period of just under half an hour. It consisted of position specific drills – in simplistic terms, the backs and the forwards warmed up differently, much like they do prior to NRL matches.
The remainder of the session was composed of opposed work, firstly working on match specifics (more on that later) before moving on to an opposed game. The afternoon concluded with Joey Johns working with a group of players.
An interesting feature of today’s training was the split of the players between the Blue and the Gold jerseys. Rather than having the top 13 NRL players vs likely Canterbury Cup, there was a split of talent between the two teams. This could have been a pointer to the trial this week.
We therefore saw contests such as Junior (Gold) vs RCG (Blue), Matto (Gold) vs Nathan Brown (Blue). Three of the spine were in Gold with Reed Mahoney opposing them in Blue.
Notable absentees were Fergo and Taka, who were in camp for the Indigenous All Stars vs Maori clash, and younger squad members Schneider, Hollis and Hughes, who I assume were training with the combined Canterbury Cup and Flegg group. Their places were filled by some Canterbury Cup contracted players.
Defence, specifically defence following a kick chase, appeared to be the focus during the opposed drills. The kicking team commenced sets as if they were on tackle four. This would be done at different parts of the field, and involved a variety of kicks. The goal appeared to be composure in the chase and getting the line set and aggressive to limit the yardage in the kick return and in the following couple of tackles.
The opposed game featured strong defence – to be expected with the talent split between the two teams. Supporters would also acknowledge that defence was the hallmark of the Eels performance at the Nines. However, the Gold team seemed to have the edge in attack with Moses, Brown, Gutho and Sivo asserting their superiority in the latter stages. The result was two tries to Sivo on the back of sharp shifts which simply worked a numbers advantage.
As the extras commenced and some of the players worked with Eels coaching staff, Joey Johns took centre stage to work with his group. Watching this immortal coach small groups or individuals is a fascinating exercise. In addition to the skills imparted, the art of deception and the importance of communication are emphasised. And similarly to what I’ve observed from BA’s coaching, the explanation about forcing certain defensive decisions and how that shapes what an attacker can do is incredibly engaging, because it often unfolds that way in practise or in opposed games.
The evolution of Moses as a playmaker is evident during this time. He is thoroughly immersed in these sessions, and his voice is just as prominent as Johns as he asks questions and then takes ownership as he implements the plays.
Don’t forget, the second Canterbury Cup trial is scheduled for Ringrose Park this Friday night when the Eels clash with the Rabbitohs at 7pm. I’m expecting a few more of the full time squad to play this week, so make sure you either get to the ground or follow Forty’s live blog.
The curtain raiser will be a Flegg trial, kicking off at 5pm.
See you there.
The 25 man squad has been named, and as expected, it contains numerous NRL players. In fact, with this list, the clash could qualify as an Eels NRL trial. In contrast, the Rabbitohs are treating the clash as a Canterbury Cup hit out.
Eels: Daniel Alvaro, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Rhys Davies, Levi Dodd, Haze Dunster, Elie El-Zahkam, Kane Evans, John Fonua, David Gower, George Jennings, Michael Jennings, Oregon Kaufusi, Brad Keighran, Shaun Lane, Eli Levido, Reed Mahoney, Makahesi Makatoa, Marata Niukore, Ethan Parry, Jaeman Salmon, Will Smith, Ray Stone, Peni Terepo
The team sheet might look something like this:
1 Fonua 2 Dunster 3 Salmon 4 M Jennings 5 G Jennings 6 Smith 7 Davies 8 Alvaro 9 Mahoney 10 Campbell-Gillard 11 Lane 12 Niukore 13 Brown 14 Keighran 15 Stone 16 Evans 17 Gower 18 Kaufusi 19 Utoikamanu 20 Parry 21 Terepo 22 Makatoa 23 Levido 24 Dodd 25 El-Zahkam
I’d expect Keighran and Davies to share dummy half duties with Mahoney and Levido to play in the halves. Salmon might also be utilised in the halves to allow Parry to spend time in the centres.
Images courtesy of Eels media and NRL