How do you get great energy in a session?
In my observations, over many years, you put the footy in players’ hands and let them loose.
Over the last two days, in addition to the essential conditioning component, there’s been plenty of footy and a bit of fun.
And whenever there’s footy to be played, Isaiah Papali’i continues to push his claims.
Tuesday is generally a light day when it comes to fitness work. It’s mostly skills and set starts on the agenda.
The halves kicked things off, literally, as they practised the skills covered by Joey Johns. The Eels short kicking game in 2020 didn’t reproduce the outstanding results achieved in 2019. It’s obvious they intend to change that.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the squad filed onto the field and after warming up, they were split into forwards and backs.
Steve Murphy worked with the backs, as Dylan Brown, Mitch Moses and Jake Arthur provided their peers with a range of kicks to defuse around the in-goal area. Bombs, cross field kicks, chips, floaters and grubbers were put up to test the back five.
David Kidwell and Ryan Carr ran the forwards as the pack worked in pairs – taking the ball to the line and offloading to the support runner hitting the hole. The defenders, carrying bump pads, were encouraged to make it tougher for the attackers.
“Put some heat into it. See if you can knock someone over!”
From there, the pack worked on winning the collision. It was bumpers up into the tackle pads as they looked to make it difficult for the defender to get any ascendency in the ruck.
As this skills work unfolded, Brad Arthur kept his eye across all of the players, standing back and observing as his assistants led the groups.
Tuesday concluded with the squad working unopposed through standard sets. Split into two teams, and on separate fields, it was Parra101 as they gained familiarity with the calls and their roles from various field positions.
Wednesday is typically a big conditioning day, and the first 40 minutes or so this morning was dedicated to warm ups, running mechanics, sprints and repeated sets of 120-140 metre runs.
During part of this period, the squad was split into those who’d been there for a couple of weeks, and the NRL players who returned this week. It appeared to be a slightly different load for each group.
As the sound of Mitch Moses’ voice urging his group echoed around the complex, it was Dylan Brown, Jake Arthur, Bryce Cartwright, Ray Stone and Haze Dunster pushing hardest in their group. The consistency of these players deserves to be applauded.
It was then footy time.
Divided into Reds vs Blues, it was a case of relentless goal line defence against repeated sets of attack as both teams had their turn in each role.
After initially being told that the attack would surrender in contact, it was soon apparent that slightly stronger questions were going to be asked in both the carries and the tackles. This is what I’m here for!
And it seemed like Mitch Moses was on the angry pills in defence as he looked to shut down any attack heading in his direction.
The talk was terrific and Cartwright looked like he was ready to put on another show with a perfectly weighted kick into the in-goal. Will Smith then resumed his impressive late season form, straightening the attack to deliver a short pass off his hip for his runner to explode into the gap.
Side note. Despite Cartwright’s skill set, he’s not overplaying his hand. The new recruit has been very selective in his “big” plays and is doing everything required in defence. I’ll make another call on his progress when the longer opposed sessions kick during January.
After another period of conditioning to fatigue, it was back to more footy. This time Reed Mahoney found a charging Ray Stone running a crash line off a short ball close to the line. There can be no surrender in the tackle when Mr 3:16 is literally hurling his body at the defence!
Now, instead of more conditioning, the group was split into four teams with two full-field games played in the same space. One was Fijian Touch (aka forward pass touch), an always popular game with players. The other looked to be a more standard game of touch, though with possibly only three tackles in possession.
Cue the chaotic fun.
“Join the game, join the party!” Murf exhorted as one of the players broke into open field.
In another moment Jake Arthur showed an amazing turn of speed in a cross field chase to prevent a try. Efforts like this say plenty about a bloke’s determination.
The action was non stop, and their lungs were obviously getting a work out, but before they knew it, the players were back into more conditioning, this time getting up and down off the ground at certain intervals, mirroring the physical requirements of defence.
More try line attack and defence ensued, and it was Papali’i catching the eye in attack. Playing in the middle, he was very busy, either providing a link to his halves or running great lines that asked question after question. Similarly, Keegan Hipgrave also carried the ball powerfully and seemed to run lines that challenged the defence.
All of the new blokes are making an impression, but based on what I’ve seen of Papali’i at the Warriors and what he’s brought to Eels training, I don’t know how Brad Arthur will be able to leave him out of the top 17. It looks like he’s going to play as a middle forward, and his work ethic is outstanding. Throw in some ball play and a combination of intelligence and power in his carries, and he’ll add plenty to the Parra pack.
As the back half of the session unfolded, Elkin varied the conditioning work with the players moving up and back practising their line speed. This time he was not pleased and he let the group know in no uncertain terms. The line speed drill also drew the ire of BA. The squad would pay a penalty for this, completing another set at the conclusion of their opposed work.
In the final set of try line attack/defence, there were two highlights. The first was a try created from a spectacular cut out pass from Moses. The second was a try from a kick. A superb pick up and pass off a Shaun Lane tap down set up the winger for the try. Once that pick up occurred there was literally no way of shutting down the try. Consequently, the feedback from BA – after he praised the attack – was all about what the defence allowed to happen prior to the kick.
The session concluded with defensive techniques – hit and stick stuff – followed by extras.
It was a physically demanding morning that would have pleased the staff. From pathways players to established stars, it was a terrific effort from everyone.
(Images courtesy of Eels media)