How close are we to some serious footy?
Here’s the quick rundown:
* Thursday, February 18 – the players with 12 NRL games or less in 2020 are eligible to play in the Eels vs Dragons trial at Kogarah
* Saturday, February 20 – the Indigenous vs Maori All Stars clash, with Blake Ferguson selected for the Indigenous All Stars
* Saturday, February 27 – all three grades (Flegg, Canterbury Cup and NRL) in action at Penrith
Given the schedule over the next two and a half weeks, it’s no surprise that the footy component of training would be ramping up. That’s not to say that there was no conditioning component. There was running, and that taxing up/down work featured.
However, you can expect my reports to focus on the footy from here on. And so to today’s 13 vs 13 action.
In their last opposed session, the Blue team (playing in the Blue and Gold home jerseys) proved too strong for the Red team (playing in the White alternate strip).
This morning, the Reds got off to a flyer with winger Michael Oldfield catching an attacking kick to score in the corner. Marata Niukore was causing his share of havoc through the middle, and the Reds halves in Moses and Rankin seemed to build ascendancy on the back of this.
After absorbing the pressure, the Blues took advantage of good field position for Opacic to post their first try off a pin point Jake Arthur kick. It was a good take from the new recruit and he still had some work to do to plant the ball.
The first break in the opposed wasn’t a time for rest.
The pace of the morning actually lifted with a game of kick/chase. The rules of this two hand touch game include include a maximum of three tackles to run the ball, before it must be kicked. The outcome is a lively game of touch with the downfield kicks coming thick and fast. It’s good for conditioning, good for drilling the kick chase and good for getting players back to support the kick return.
When the full contact opposed re-started, Moses and Rankin again combined to put Oldfield in for his second try. Their combination, alongside Hipgrave, was looking sharp. This was easily Rankin’s best opposed form, and Moses was in terrific touch,
Not to be outdone, Jake Arthur was soon combining with Ray Stone in a huge play for the Blues.
JA put the charging Stone through a hole around halfway, and Mr 3:16 showed a clean pair of heels as he strode towards the fullback, Sean Russell.
With no immediate support, the Eels backrower stood the fullback up but Russell did just enough to put Stone off balance. A pass as he fell to ground landed in the hands of a late arriving support runner, but the defence had scrambled by then.
The ball was then moved quickly to the left but the Reds defence did well to number up and shut down what looked to be a certain try.
Proving that this defence was no flash in the pan, the Red defence again stayed calm in defusing another Blue raid when a try seemed imminent. In both instances the defence forced a turnover.
Now rising in confidence, a passing rush down the Red’s right side saw Will Smith (playing centre) burst into space, then find Reed Mahoney running in support for the busy hooker to dash away for the try. This was quickly backed up by Penisini providing the try assist to Sivo.
The next break in play saw more games of touch footy. There was little time for rest, only footy, footy and more footy. Even the periods of conditioning were footy related.
The final stretch of opposed saw the Blues enjoy most of the possession. With each try earning a repeat possession in the red zone, tries were quickly added by Fergo, Stone and Lussick.
Given the contrived nature of this late play, I didn’t read too much into the late dominance of the Blues. It’s the Reds who get the overall accolades today.
After the final whistle the players came together as a group. With the coaches giving them some space, the team leaders had plenty to say and Gutho and Matto looked particularly animated.
I’m always encouraged by players holding themselves accountable for a session, or setting standards for themselves. This moment was an example of team leadership in action.
On a side note, Joey Johns was present for the entire session. He was on field, observing, just behind the play during the 13 on 13. Later he led a kicking skills session with the halves and Gutho as the rest of the squad went through their extras.
Big session done.
Bring on the rest of the week.