How was your Christmas and New Year? If you’re anything like me, the combination of wet weather and COVID restrictions made for a fairly quiet festive break.
For the players, two weeks away from organised preseason training came a little sooner in their preparations than normally scheduled. Staying on track over what is often a time or excess for most punters is just one of the challenges facing the professional footballer.
In January, the starting line of Round 1 becomes visible. It’s time for players to push their claims for a top 17 spot. Most years, this is when you start to get serious opposed contact sessions. In this shortened preseason, that may change.
First day back this week held no surprises.
Blake Ferguson was expected to return on January 4 and he did just that. After he became the subject of speculation on mainstream and social media, I was told by the club that he was scheduled to return on the first session of the New Year, and that’s exactly how it unfolded.
The Origin players aren’t due back till next week, and there were no early arrivals from that group.
Testing was early on the agenda and the usual suspects looked to be out in front – Jake Arthur, Jordan Rankin, Haze Dunster, Bryce Cartwright. Dylan Brown was excused from the day. The run involved different marker points and with the entire group running back and forth, it was easy to lose track of the leaders.
The performance which piqued my interest was that of Maika Sivo. The big Fijian is never going to win any marathons. He’s a power athlete and will finish at the tail end of any distance runs. Furthermore, he’s had disruptions during each of his preseasons.
This preseason is Sivo’s first opportunity for a full preparation. On the surface, his tested run on Monday might not have been anything to boast about. However, my gut reaction on watching it was that it may have been close to a PB. I could be wrong, very wrong, but I’ll be trying to get some feedback about that this week.
Eels coaches, tens of thousands of Eels fans and even Sivo himself will be looking for an improved 2021. That journey is beginning now.
Conditioning made up the major component of Monday’s field session, but the squad did finish with some footy via left side vs right side attack and defence. Given that there are so many new faces in the squad, there are still basic shapes, calls and combinations to become familiar with. Stuff like this is the precursor to larger opposed sessions – part of the scaffolded learning of the preseason.
In contrast to Monday, there was little on-field conditioning on Tuesday. Dylan Brown was back and the early work I caught involved half of the squad drilling their set shapes from different parts of the field.
Sets of six were completed unopposed – and the scenarios were mixed. Some were started from deep in their own half, others attacking the quarter, and a number from scrums. The coaching emphasis seemed quite simple – know your role.
A noteworthy moment came after BA had provided some coaching to one of the younger players about his positioning and the lines he wanted him to run. After the coach moved away, Shaun Lane came over to the player to reinforce BA’s message and to let him know how that positioning helped him in his role.
The morning finished with Joey Johns and his spine group. Across the entire squad this amounts to approximately a dozen players, with young pathways boys also benefitting from the immortal’s coaching. The session was a continuation of developing their combinations and kicking game. I’ll be interested in watching how these skills and options transfer to match days during the season.
Bring on Wednesday.