What value do you place on a first grade debut?
There’s unquestionably lessons learned on the field, but what about the mindset?
Last week, I gave a special mention to Sam Loizou for some standout moments in the defensive drills. On Monday, he caught the eye pushing to the front in conditioning runs.
Similarly, Ky Rodwell looks to be thriving at the start of his first Eels NRL preseason. His outstanding NSW Cup form earned him a spot against the Panthers in the final round, and he did that without the benefit of an intense preseason.
I won’t read too much into what this means for either player in the upcoming season. Rather, I mention it because having a taste of NRL can light the flame of ambition, or even the belief that you belong there.
Last year we witnessed other first grade debuts. Like Ky and Sam, Will Penisini, Sean Russell, Jake Arthur and Makahesi Makatoa all played their first game in the top grade. I’ll be monitoring how that accelerates their development.
From an entire group perspective, early feedback is that the squad has returned in impressive shape. This is indicative that this younger group are not taking their opportunity lightly and have maintained or improved their fitness during the off-season. Whether this will also be true of the senior players when they return is yet to be seen.
Today I was asked whether Dylan Brown has bulked up. Though I can’t answer that he certainly doesn’t look any smaller and he’s still one of the best conditioned players.
Speaking of conditioning, Monday’s field session began with some running mechanics that eventually led to longer and repeated sprints. During these, the squad was grouped as either forwards or backs.
Of the backs, Dylan Brown, Jake Arthur and Haze Dunster consistently placed themselves at the front of the group. For the forwards, Makahesi Makatoa and Ray Stone seemed to be busting their proverbial to get near the front. Mr 3:16 even placed himself on the outside of the starting line, meaning he had further to run when the players were still across the track on a bend.
Once again, the running made way for footy with the squad taken through sets from a kick off. With new players in the squad, there are basic calls and roles to be learnt.
Paul McGregor and Simon Woolford were in attendance observing the proceedings. At this stage, they too would be familiarising themselves with Parra systems before adding their input, or in Woolford’s case, ensuring the implementation of these systems at the Flegg and pathways levels..
Wednesday’s session seemed to be the inverse of Monday. After warm ups, the early focus was on footy with the conditioning component building as the morning progressed.
Working through sets from scrums, the emphasis was once more on shapes through to the kick. This was done without opposition as the players continued to familiarise themselves with their roles.
Next on the agenda were shapes and options on both sides of the ruck. A defence line was used to add pressure and force decisions. I didn’t mind seeing a few errors during this time. This time of year is a learning process, and with new faces and missing NRL stars, there remains plenty of scope for improvement.
From there, the squad transitioned into some grid work. Like all footy teams, the Eels have a variety of ball playing drills that they execute in corridors or grids. During the season, the footy essentials of drawing and passing, and playing what’s in front, are practised in most sessions. Often times there’s a bit of rivalry involved, and Moses and Gutho always find a way to be in opposing groups.
Whilst the King and the Prince are yet to kick off their preseasons, today’s work still resulted in a bit of banter and a fair share of praise from the coaches.
The morning concluded with Trent Elkin adding to today’s kilometres with the repeated up and back defensive line movements. Though not quite the same as “Malcolms”, the short distances covered and the movement up and down off the turf mimic some of the conditioning demands of defending.
Bring on Friday…