With only three weeks of the preseason behind us, the festive break brings a fortnight hiatus to Parra’s 2021 preparations.
But if anyone thinks that the players put their feet up over this period they would be very much mistaken.
A program will be set for the squad members, based on their returns from over the past three weeks. And you know some of these fellas will regard that as a minimum.
Such players don’t take things for granted. When training resumes in January, that first round match and selection becomes more tangible. Some want it more.
Going forward into the new year, there are questions around the Eels backline and the bench. I have less clarity around these selections, and the Eels have roster spots available. Preseason efforts could be more critical than any previous year.
Here’s how things wrapped up this week:
I’ve been asked why I watch the spine train on Tuesdays and Thursdays, rather than the majority of the squad. The answer is simple – I’m watching the craft of the playmaker being taught. And the Eels utilise one of the greatest of all time as their mentor.
You can watch a Joey Johns session in isolation, but it doesn’t do it justice.
The immortal does what all good teachers do – he scaffolds the learning and he’s been doing so since November last year.
Today, it was all about different passes when engaging the defence, and combinations within the spine. The goal of the session was explained and examples of current NRL players who excel in the skill, and why they do, were provided. Johns didn’t mince words about his expectations regarding standards.
The skill was practised, with adjustments and corrections made to where the football was held, the shoulder positions, hip positions and the pace of execution.
Extension of today’s learning occurred when it was incorporated into a range of plays, utilising different combinations of the spine. He explained likely defensive responses and how to either take advantage or adjust their play.
As I’ve reported in previous posts, the importance of communication is continually reinforced by Joey. Some players are great communicators on the field, others aren’t. But in the spine, all these blokes have no excuses. Their team mates have to be able to hear them.
There was plenty to like about what our starting spine (minus Gutho) were showing, but Will Smith looked particularly sharp. His retention in the squad was smart given his versatility across all spine positions.
Whether it was dedicated conditioning, or footy games and drills, there was no shortage of running today.
The squad alternated between their interval running, games and opposed footy simulations throughout the morning session.
There were no surprises in the conditioning. It was a battle royal up front between Jake Arthur and Dylan Brown. Jordan Rankin maintained his place in the leading group as did Will Smith whilst Haze Dunster finished stronger and stronger as each set mounted.
Bryce Cartwright now ranks as probably the fittest forward I’ve seen in recent preseasons. If his first goal at his new club was to set a new benchmark for his work ethic, then he earns a huge tick so far.
During the first game of four tackle, two hand touch, Jake Arthur provided the highlight with a kick and chase for the try.
The young half is most unlikely to feature in the NRL in 2021 (after all he and his peers missed an entire season of Flegg and Canterbury Cup this year), so I did not expect to see such confidence. Jake has always been highly rated for his composure, game management and defence, but he seems to have added extra dimensions to his attacking game. This upcoming season of NRL training will stand him in good stead for the future.
The simultaneous games of two hand touch and Fijian touch are almost impossible to follow. They occupy the same space and it seems as if the Fiji touch players are able to join in the attack in the other game if the opportunity presents.
On a side note, these games are a clever way of building kilometres and fatigue. The action is non-stop but the players are concentrating on their game.
Relentless attack and defence drills wrapped up the session and the year. Split into two teams, each side was charged with holding out multiple attacking sets within the quarter. The contact was quite willing and I saw a bit more of the big blokes like Dave Hollis and Oregon Kaufusi laying attacking platforms.
In fact, Oregon also provided a defensive highlight, charging through at Jake Arthur as he set himself for the kick. Contact was made as the ball was struck, and he didn’t miss him. Merry Christmas mate! Arthur responded well, getting straight to his feet, whilst Oggy earned praise from BA for his hustle and his hit.
The other bloke to have a couple of notable moments was Keegan Hipgrave. He crashed over for a try off a tremendous short ball by Arthur, then in defence, prevented a certain try with a great read and big contact. Again, the coach was full of praise.
As always, I’m listening for the talk in both attack and defence. Moses is relentless in demanding effort on the line, but I was surprised to hear the talk from Maika. I’m not sure that he’s renowned as a communicator, but perhaps he’s finding his voice.
At this time every year, I’m normally confident about my capacity to pick the Top 17 for round 1. That’s not the case at the moment. Maybe some readers might have a crack in their replies.
The players will return on January 4, as will my training reports.
But don’t think that we’ll be shutting up shop on TCT. The content will continue during the festive break, so stay with us.
Credit to Eels media for some images used.