Can you smell what’s cooking?
Yeah, the weather is warm, there’s plenty of beach time left in this summer, but the footy season is getting closer.
The signal for that today came with the return of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Clint Gutherson, and the significant opposed work.
Big Reg and the King looked in royal shape though there was very little time for rest for both blokes. A 1.2km fitness test awaited them, before they followed that up with some modified conditioning.
I could try to describe Gutho on the training track but it simply wouldn’t do him justice. The Eels Captain is a freak – his motor just finds new gears that others could only dream of possessing. I’m sure that I heard Fergo let out an expletive when he heard the King’s time for the 1.2km.
The other aspect that always lifts when Gutho is around is the talk. Regular readers of these reports know how I value communication on the training track. Day one for the King saw him barking encouragement and instructions for his team mates during conditioning as well as the footy. His leadership gets better every year.
Conditioning filled the first hour of today’s session, and it was arguably the most demanding of this preseason. As mentioned, there was a modified introduction for Gutho and RCG. With other players up to four weeks deep into their preparations, the Origin squad members could not be expected to dive straight into the same workload. That sort of thing is a recipe for injury and modern sports science is conscious of such risks. Accordingly, Trent Elkin builds the squad into their preseason.
On a side note, as Gutho and RCG were being tested, the rest of the squad began their session with running mechanics and sprints. Watching Waqa Blake hit top speed is amazing. Although he would undoubtedly have some technical flaws that an athletics coach could find, to the average punter like myself Blake moves effortlessly fast. I’m keen to find out his best time over 40 metres.
Fitness tasks behind them, the squad was again divided into the Red and Blue teams for a solid hit out of 13 on 13 opposed footy. As per last week, the established “talent” was spread between both teams.
The ice packs would have come in handy after some of the clashes between the middle forwards. Though not quite at NRL intensity, the hits within the red zone seemed to lift when either team threatened to score. I thought all of the middles impressed.
But there were some tries on show.
Both Red wingers, including Maika Sivo, were early to score as they took advantage of good play around the edges close to the Blue line, then found space through quick hands.
But it wouldn’t be long before King Gutho imposed himself on the game for the Blue team, with a clever pass from Jake Arthur putting the fullback into space for a forty metre dash to the line.
The scores were then levelled as Bryce Cartwright backed up a break from his winger to streak away for the try.
Cartwright also featured in an impressive effort on effort play. A break was made out wide against his team, and the kick was put in towards the line. The big back rower chased back from the opposite side of the field to dive on the ball about ten metres out from the line. He then backed it up by taking the second carry in the set.
The player deserving of a special mention from this session was Will Smith. Not only is Wilbur one of the fittest blokes in the club, but his involvements today were outstanding. His passing was sharp and selective, and his support play was on point, including his charge onto an Oregon Kaufusi offload that saw him turning defenders inside out with a weaving 50 metre run that was only stopped by desperate cover defence just short of the line.
Smith did exceptionally well when called up late in the 2020 season, and his preseason form is vindicating the decision to extend his time at the Eels.
From my perspective, today’s 40 minutes or so of opposed footy had the right proportion of ball movement and tight defence that would have left the coaches satisfied. Line breaks were earned, and easy metres weren’t given up. The footy was quite a good standard and to be honest, very entertaining to watch.
I’m expecting Nathan Brown and Junior Paulo to join proceedings later this week.