Full contact opposed? I’m here for it!
When that serious footy component starts taking over at preseason training, the opening round feels that little bit closer.
There was no shortage of highlights today when the full contact opposed work became the major feature of the session. Furthermore, the coaching staff looked after us by using the “hill field” for most of the morning.
Here’s a run down of the session:
This wasn’t a major component of the morning, though Elkin did put the squad through their paces with some limited M runs. Maybe I’ll call them N runs. Nonetheless, an animated Elkin stressed the importance of maintaining their standards after being unimpressed with one set.
As expected, Jake Arthur streeted the squad, and the more they ran, the further he extended his lead. Others deserving of a mention for their conditioning efforts included Jayden Yates, Mitch Rein, Isaiah Papali’i and Dylan Brown.
I should clarify that all of the footy components had an element of conditioning within them, and the running between games/drills continued to ensure that playing under fatigue was ever present.
The squad was split into multiple groups for a couple of touch footy games, both of which actually were defensive drills that focussed on positioning, movement and effort.
In the first game, set up on a quarter of the field, the attacking team was given the latitude to play expansive footy, with the emphasis on the defenders making the right decisions and effort to shut it down.
A variation of Fijian Footy (or forward pass footy) was then played across the field. Effort areas seemed to be equal parts pushing up in support and equal parts the defensive chase. It would be easy enough to focus on the spectacular ball work in this type of game, and usually you are looking for support players to find space, but this morning the greatest praise was reserved for defence.
In a “match” that pitched the Home (Blue) jersey team against the White, I’d give the victory to the White in a tight points decision. And by points, I mean the points scored.
The White jersey team managed to take advantage of a couple of opportunities which they converted to tries, though that’s not to say that there weren’t highlights for both teams.
First and foremost, the overall winner was the defence. There was no easing up in the collision and the sound from a number of the hits could be heard from the car park.
Some of the more brutal shots were delivered by Woody – Wiremu Greig. The Mullet Master is looking in terrific shape and his right shoulder left a collection of bruises on his unfortunate White jersey opponents.
Another to impress for the Blues was Brendan Hands. His service out of dummy half was crisp and he’s a number 9 who likes to take the team forward by engaging the defence as he distributes the ball. This allowed his forwards to be on the front foot when receiving the ball. He also earned a six again with a sharp dart from dummy half after a quick play the ball.
At one point Greig and Hands combined nicely when the big prop was able to offload in a three man tackle for Hands to grab a valuable 15 – 20 metres.
As expected, Dylan Brown was superb in his effort areas. One particular chase off a 50 metre kick had him diving through the air in an attempt to bring down Hayze Perham in the in goal. Though he was successful in grassing the flying Perham, the versatile fullback just managed to slide into the field of play.
Bryce Cartwright produced a few standout moments in what was arguably his best session of the pre-season and both were indicative of his positive mindset.
The first worth mentioning was his chase on a Jake Arthur kick. Carty led the 35 metre chase and gave Sean Russell no chance of getting around him.
His second outstanding moment had him hitting a hole from an offload (possibly off Caleb Tohi), before weaving his way into the clear, then finding Mitch Rein in support for the try.
Not long after, Matt Komolafe was sent on a sprint down the left wing and Jake Arthur showed good pace to back up on the inside for the White’s second try.
The rest of the “match” was just a tough physical clash. Hit ups were at full pace and players were driven backwards in three man tackles.
As if to put the physical exclamation point on the morning, the session was concluded with a period of relentless defence. Each team was given repeated sets of six camped in the other side’s quarter.
It goes without saying that effort on effort is required, and maintaining positive body language goes hand in hand with that effort. For the most part the defence held strong apart from three outstanding plays.
In the first instance it involved a rampaging Marata Niukore running off Dylan Brown in an unstoppable charge to the line. My first thought as Marata burst onto the ball was finding a get well card for the defenders!
Jake Arthur then provided Isaiah Papali’i with a precision pass for the Kiwi to bust the line open. It was a sweetly timed play that reminded me of Ice’s potency on the edge as well as Arthur’s capacity to dig into the line.
Finally, Carty executed a glorious cut out pass to create a try in the corner.
Solomone Naiduki is an absolute unit. It will be interesting to see how he performs over the rest of this preseason, but he looks bigger than last year. He was just starting to have an impact at NSW Cup level in 2021, and will be looking to build on that in 2022.
Ofahiki Ogden is very quickly finding his fitness after joining the Eels just before Christmas. He already appears to have dropped a few kilos and is a handful carrying the ball into contact.
I’m looking forward to what next week has in store.