“The hard work’s the easy work.”
So sayeth King Gutho.
After yesterday’s lighter field session, the squad was building into today’s conditioning when Mitch Moses turned to Gutho to enquire about the times he was running. After supplying the requested info, those words of wisdom followed.
The captain’s strange abbreviated response does hold the truth – when you work as hard as he does, the tough stuff does come easy. As always, the King has arrived ready for the preseason, and he has imposed himself from his first steps onto the Kellyville track in 2021. Every time it seems like there might be someone who’ll take the training crown, everyone is quickly reminded about the absurdity of such thoughts.
There is surely no question about Gutho being the gold standard and a leader. Positioning himself on the sideline so he could view the work of the entire squad whilst he ran, the Origin Rep led the runs, calling encouragement, along with his humorous offerings, right across the field.
Once again, the first half of the session was controlled by Trent Elkin as the conditioning work stretched out to around 45 minutes. The fitness stuff also found its way into the second half of the morning, with running providing the “breaks” within the opposed footy.
But if Monday’s 13 on 13 surprised with the high standard of play in both attack and defence, today did not quite reach those heights. The established first graders were again split between the Blue and the Red teams, and this time the defence was far more dominant.
In some respects, the defence should be expected to hold the upper hand at training. The “talent” is split, the players’ idiosyncrasies are known, and there are standard sets involved. In reality, during any NRL season, each team comes to learn what their opposition will do, so the challenge is to create opportunities through different options, whilst applying pressure via composure and performance under fatigue. It can literally be the same on the training field.
From a positive perspective, I thought that the line speed and communication in defence was good, and the contact possibly up a notch on Monday. The result was errors in attack. A few too many dropped balls or passes not finding the mark would not have pleased the coaches.
Naturally, it’s unrealistic to expect any team to produce nothing but faultless sessions throughout the year. It would be fictitious for me to ignore the less than perfect. However, the coaches undoubtedly find aspects that please them in sessions filled with errors, and aspects that displease them in sessions that seem sensational to me.
Were there any questions answered today?
There was a bit of attack thrown Bryce Cartwright’s way and I thought his defence measured up well. I’m also convinced that Opacic continues to have the inside running for Jenko’s centre spot, though I thought that Oldfield performed well today.
The battle for the dummy half role is hotting up, and it reminds me of 2015 when the club started the season with DeGois, Peats and Pritchard, and 2018 when Cameron King, Kaysa Pritchard and Reed Mahoney all played NRL.
The balancing act for this position involves providing all players with time at dummy half during opposed sessions. Both Lussick and Roache are different types of players to Reed. I think one of them might get a bench spot come round one.
Of course, Ray Stone could have something to say about that. Mr 3:16 is having a good preseason thus far and he reminded everyone of his tackling prowess today. On a number of occasions my attention was drawn to how quickly the ball runner was cut to the ground. Asking “who was that?” was obviously redundant.
It may be that Brad Arthur opts for greater utility from his number 14, and both Smith (who looked tremendous in attack on Monday) and Stone provide cover for dummy half as well as other positions. Neither would be the preferred option should Reed fall out of form or sustain an injury that puts him out of action, which is the hole that the club has filled with Roache and Lussick.
So, with bench selections continuing to provide the talking point, a definitive call on the 14 jersey is probably no closer to being made.