The Cumberland Throw

Eels Pre-Season Training – February 24 & 26, 2020: Defence, More Defence, And Team List Wednesday

It’s starting to feel like the season proper. Training has become more targeted as the team prepares for a specific opponent. And though I’ll continue to front up at Kellyville, my pre-season training reports are coming close to an end.

The players possibly feel differently, but the last four months have passed relatively quickly.

Old Saleyards ceased operation as Eels HQ when the Football and Administration operations became one big happy family at their new Kellyville home.

The full time squad endured the pre-Christmas physical grind, and then the new year contest for positions brought fierce opposed sessions and big collisions to the training fields. Oregon Kaufusi’s contract was extended and Stefano Utoikamanu’s 2021 departure to the Tigers was confirmed.

The upgrades continued – Stefano and Rhys Davies to Top 30 for 2020, Watson Heleta and Kyle Schneider to Development Contracts, and Jai Field pushing to be a late addition. Unfortunately confirmation of the playing fate of Maika Sivo is yet to be announced.

The majority of the NRL squad have built up match fitness via the Nines and the second Canterbury Cup trial. Essentially, it’s getting to the pointy end of the pre-season.

Which brings us to Saturday’s final trial – the special Sapphire Coast Community edition of Parra’s clash with Penrith. As a consequence, training took on more of a regular season appearance.

The Eels conducted two field sessions this week – an evening session on Monday and a morning run on Wednesday. With the team travelling south on Thursday, that only leaves the Friday Captain’s Run before the team take on the Riff.

Defence seemed to be the major focus of both days. In response to the trial against the Rabbitohs, maybe that’s something that supporters would have expected. I have the feeling that  fine tuning the defence was already part of the plan.

So what did that look like?

It included contrived defensive sets on different parts of the field, against a variety of attacking shapes, through to defending against a range of kicks. It was followed through to completing a kick return set with the ball in hand then returning pressure via the kick chase and tackle.

Some of the contrived scenarios involved adjusting to less than ideal situations for the defence – for example certain players caught at marker or the numbers being at a disadvantage.

Sione Fonua

Marker movement and line speed was drilled as was communication, both in the line and in the tackle. Communication remains critical in the tackle, as the players have to quickly organise who peels off first and whether they are moving to the left or the right.

Both sessions also contained brief periods of opposed work, giving the attack and defence practise in a game flow situation. Rather than identify some of the NRL stars for their performances, I’d prefer to mention Johnny Fonua, Haze Dunster and Jai Field for strong efforts in attack. Fonua was sharp at centre – further demonstrating his versatility – and Dunster is finding improved consistency in his footy. Field is one out of the box with his pace. He made a clean line break for the Gold team, and it was all brought about by a deceptive step followed by amazing acceleration.

Jai Field

Joey Johns also featured on both days. It was fascinating to watch him work with players outside the spine. He moved around behind the attacking line, providing individual advice for players about positioning, lines and timing.

As for the overall form of the squad’s training, I’m going to leave that unsaid. They’ve now got the trial to help hone their combinations.

The Eels have named the following squad for that trial:

Daniel Alvaro, Dylan Brown, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Haze Dunster, Kane Evans, Blake Ferguson, Jai Field, John Fonua, David Gower, Clint Gutherson, George Jennings, Michael Jennings, Oregon Kaufusi, Shaun Lane, Reed Mahoney, Ryan Matterson, Mitch Moses, Marata Niukore, Ethan Parry, Junior Paulo, Jaeman Salmon, Maika Sivo, Will Smith, Ray Stone, Peni Terepo, Stefano Utoikamanu

The notable omissions are Waqa Blake, Brad Takairangi, Rhys Davies and Andrew Davey. Players such as Sam Hughes, Kyle Schneider and Dave Hollis will prepare with the Flegg team.

With 27 players named, we can probably expect the likely NRL Round 1 team to play between 40 to 50 minutes, with other players to get some game time towards the last 20 to 30 minutes.

It’s difficult to accurately gauge a team’s performance under such unlimited interchange conditions. The coaches will have a list of KPIs that they’ll be looking for, whilst having a look at a few extra players.

I’m going to surprise and tip a Panthers victory in this trial. It doesn’t concern me to tip this way as I believe that a few of our team will be better for this run. Just quietly, I’m also happy to be wrong!

Eels forever!



Images courtesy of Eels media

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I will be an interested watcher on the box come Saturday. I wonder if Davies showing last week against the bunnies was a reason for his omission unless injured?? Will be very interested in seeing Field play though. I admit to one concern with Davies and that was his goal kicking along with a couple of crook reads in the play, that was very much a replication of his GF game last year. Yet, when I have seen him play at other times he seems the opposite. Who wins? I am not convinced one way or the other at this… Read more »


Musta hit a wrong key, as my identity is not shown. Tis me who posted

Colin Hussey

Has happened again, am I out for the count?

Colin Hussey

Having seen him in some games along with snippet views of him, he has some strengths to show, especially a solid defender and can run ok, however his game last week showed some of the weaknesses though. I would imagine he would be part of the group that Joey is working with??

I am looking forward to see how Field goes.


Hi 60s just a quick one is Waqa Blake fit for around one as he is super important on the edge is there any news on Taka?? And also mate I just want to say thank you for all your posts over the off-season it made a very boring cricket season into a good one by reading your training reports each day thank you once again


Yes, thanks for everything you do guys. It is appreciated.

60’s it’s just a trial after all but is really disconcerting to see you tip the Panther’s it just doesn’t seem right!!!!!!

Hopefully it’s more of a hit and hope tip than a we look rubbish at training this week tip!

All the best for the weekend – will be watching!

Matthew Sweeney

Generally speaking, I feel penrith have a surprisingly good and fit squad, considering the mass exodus of stars over the years. But then I look at other outside the 8 from last year teams and could easily make strong cases for improvement. The knights in particular.

Parra Pete

I got the same impression Sam, that sixties wasn’t impressed with training this week..Looking forward to an injury free match, and the return of Waqa Blake. I am a huge fan of his style. Used to hate it when he was ‘agin’ us in the past..Good player..

Parra Pete



Maybe the old bloke could do with a rest after his run in the All Stars last week?
And is he being rested to give Snapper and Rock a little bit longer in this trial to show why they should be considered over Taka for that contentious #14.


I aim to watch this one. Defence is good and we need this to aim up. Sixties we will beat the riff in this trial. Why? Because we have a stable spine imo.
Gee i hope Oregon and Stefano have some good mins as I’d like both these boys to be in the 17 and add pressure to our starting group.
Thanks sixties for the ongoing reports and also to Forty and TCT. It’s superb and seems like yesterday that pre-season started. Thank you.


With Joey in behind the attacking line, could he possibly be a trainer throughout the season, Alfie pt ll?
The only thing that concerns me about this team is the lack of old heads or experience. Particularly as Gower is expected to miss the cut come season proper.
Thanks for the reports sixties, enjoyed them a lot.


I’m guessing Stone will get a fair crack at dummy half this week, it is still a concern, I guess Mahoney can go the distance but having the fresh legs for the last quarter is a plus and Stone means we we lose nothing defensively if Mahoney is given a spell. Another option I have been saying give Field a run at fullback while Guth slots in to dummy half which would give us a weapon against tired forwards.Anyway glad it’s BAs problem and not mine I’m sure he’s got it figured a week out from season proper.


Lateral thinking, yes alot of people say that I’m full of it.

Mannah Brow

Your comments 60’s about the overall form of the squad is worrying. I would have expected by now that our defensive structures were in place and working and that our attack, considering no changes to our spine, would be cohesive to some extent by now. This combined with a lot of expectation on the team, has me worried about the start to the season. If Stone is expected to be spending time at dummy half I hope his passing improves. Last year when he played there I thought his service was poor and when he was there briefly in last… Read more »

Mannah Brow

Hi Sixties, I hope you are right about Stone, I just have not seen anything that impresses me about him in firsts or last year when I saw him play for Wenty. he just does not stand out for mine, though he did pull off a great hit in the trial last week. Of course I think a team works on their attack and defence at training what else would they be doing? My concern was more about your comment “As for the overall form of the squad’s training, I’m going to leave that unsaid. They’ve now got the trial… Read more »


Last year the Raiders trial had our NRL players comfortably control mostly a second string Raiders squad who then turned the tables in second half when we changed personnel. Five weeks later the Raiders ground out a 19-0 warning that they had some grunt for 2019. As you suggest sixties, don’t spend too much time on doing the form.

Colin Hussey

Good reply sixties, I guess many see different things with players, personally I see Stone as being very much NRL quality, he’s still young and therefore learning, but at 22 and yet to seal a position how many are against him, too small, too light, offers nothing, thing is what do they want from him and of others in the team? There are many players from different clubs that have taken time to seal a spot in the top side, but fans expect the miracles with every player who runs on the field, rather than the realistic aspects, and I… Read more »


For me the result is not important in any trial match. A win is match fitness and no injuries. BA will be happy if the guys play to the plan and show some mental fortitude.
Just Nooooo Injuries. Pleeease!

Jpe Briffa

hey mate wash your mouth out of course your going to be wrong. thank you boys for all the work you have put in you make summer interesting. go you mighty eels


Jersey Flegg trial Saturday???


Thanks sixties


Will you be there or going to Bega?


I am maybe 50/50 about getting to Cessnock for reps. Not sure but if i go will send update.






Thank you to TCT team for making the off-season bearable and for providing so much player background.
Happy to hear the focus on defense which imo was the difference between the Eels in 2019 and the top 4 teams. And good to hear Johns is working with the squad in general (beyond the spine), what a wonderful resource.
Looking forward to watching the trial and seeing how some of the fringe players perform in with the NRL squad.
The stage is set, one last trial/practice session before the real show.


Yes DDay. I’m going to try to watch the trial as differently as I can. It’s difficult on tv, but I’m going to look at what goes on around the ball, not just with the ball, in both attack and defence.


Hot conditions in Penrith for the Jersey Flegg. No score after 12 mins of play. Fijian winger did bomb a try over the line.


Try to Parra in the 17 minute at Penrith and conversion successful Parra 6 – Riff 0


Jersey Flegg – Tasi James over with 13 to play in the first half. Solid run. Our forwards are gaining good meters. Parra 12 – Penrith 0


Half time at Jersey Flegg – Parra 12 Penrith 0.
Dominant forward pack resulting in a competitive advantage.


Jersey Flegg – 20 minutes left in second half. 12 up still – good defence


Penrith right back in it now with 7 minutes to go. Parra 12 – Penrith 10. Will be tight. Nice kick from restart going over the sideline


Parra 12 – Penrith 10 final score in Jersey Flegg trial / lost a bit of direction in the second half. But good grind out in the end.

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