What’s your definition of pre-season Parradise?
If you answered, “two hours on the training track pushing new levels of fatigue”, then today would have been just the ticket.
If that doesn’t appeal, then it’s a good thing you’re not part of the Eels squad. It was a physically demanding session.
From a spectator perspective, there was also a fair bit of footy thrown in. Good thing too, as there were some moments well worth a mention.
Structurally, the players were kept on the move, either through dedicated conditioning or game related drills.
The first forty minutes or so involved only warm ups and running. During a brief rest period, Steve Murphy explained the football “games” that they would be engaged in at different times during the second half of the session. This set some expectations and made the transitions somewhat smoother.
With that first hour done and fatigue beginning to bite, the squad launched into their first game – four tackle, two handed touch footy.
When touched, the players hit the ground then rise to play the ball – simulating a normal ruck, although at fast forward and without the wrestle. It was a frantically paced game, with the kick and chase occurring after only three tackles. The game seems to place an emphasis on ball movement and creating opportunities.
The left side for both teams provided the highlights during this first game. Tom Opacic and Maika Sivo worked an overlap with Sivo hitting open spaces before finding Opacic backing up on the inside. Good scrambling prevented the line being crossed.
Bryce Cartwright then explored the left side, delivering a superb cut out pass to put the winger into space. Again, only the chasing cover defence thwarted the try.
Trent Elkin once more took control of the squad as they were put through repeated sets of 120m-140m runs. Dylan Brown, Jake Arthur, Joey Lussick and Bryce Cartwright pushed out to lead the squad, emphasising the consistency of their efforts.
As the running continued, the interesting call from Elkin was for the players to concentrate.
At this point, he had them running up and down the field to different coloured markers. He also had them hitting the turf and rising to run on his whistle. The squad were warned to not give away any penalties as they looked to rise as one on the whistle and keep together in the line.
Those who recall my second report might remember me noting the value of conditioning work which mimics the physical demands of the game.
With the players now under fatigue, the next game of two handed touch commenced. Cue Bryce Cartwright’s next display of skill. Now playing on the right edge, the new recruit chipped over the defence from about the 40 m line, regathered on the full, then grubber kicked the ball off the outside of his foot for Haze Dunster to regather. Were it not a game of two handed touch, Dunster would have likely carried defenders across the line.
More running with repeated sets over varying distances then followed. There was plenty of up and down off the turf during this time, first over 20 metres up and back, then over repeated 40 metre runs. At this point Haze Dunster began to impose his fitness on the group as he pushed towards the lead.
The exhausting up and down movements off the ground became more frequent as the distances shortened to 10 metres, before the running finished with 40 metre and 10 metre combinations. Brad Arthur then addressed the group, emphasising the importance of grit and effort on effort – finding more even when fatigued.
Finally the squad transitioned into a drill covering last tackle options – kick chases and running the ball. The contrived scenario was a 4th tackle play the ball, leading to the fifth and last.
Given that the players were interchanging between attacking and defending teams, with the coaches positioned behind both lines providing immediate feedback, the drills were probably about both the kick/chase as well as the kick pressure and work of the back three. The defence was now grab rather than two handed touch.
Haze Dunster capped off an impressive session by providing a further two highlights. Fielding an awkward kick at full pace, the young winger charged at an angle towards the defence, only to find a rampaging Maika Sivo with a brilliant pass that put him through the line.
Immediately after this, Dunster was moved to fullback in the attacking team. Rather than kicking, they ran the ball on the last with Haze slicing through a gap before grubbering awkwardly ahead, forcing an error from the defence right on the line. Though none of this was full contact opposed, it was tremendous to witness such confidence on display.
Of course, it would be out of character for an Eels session during this preseason to not include defence techniques. Similar to last week, every player worked on their hit, stick and leg drive, with scaffolded drills that began with shoulder contact and finished with driving their opponent backwards.
The coaches wrapped up proceedings by working with groups of players during extras. This involved position specific skills such as the halves short kicking and the outside backs fielding high kicks.