It’s not unusual for wingers to provide highlight moments during a training session.
Given that opposed work is a type of match simulation, there will be opportunities created for the fast men out wide. There will be spectacular finishes, and conversely a big defensive play from a winger might also feature.
So just as those flashes of glory happen for the speed men in every NRL round, so too will they occur on the training track.
However, there aren’t too many Dally M 3s awarded to wingers, and likewise naming a winger as the session stand out is equally rare.
After Friday morning’s session, I found it difficult to not acknowledge Haze Dunster as a contender for best on field.
From the opening minutes, Dunster’s involvement was high.
The backfield carries are the bread and butter for the back three and as expected Haze carted the ball up strongly. But any early work was just the prelude.
As the players warmed into the play, Haze was proving difficult to contain. He seemed to be winning most collisions, was evasive when given space and made the right decisions in defence.
Then the try scoring opportunities kicked in. Firstly there was his professional finish to a perfect Gutherson pass to cross in the left corner.
The ever-improving winger then set up a try for Dylan Brown as he cut infield beating multiple defenders before linking with his Kiwi mate who scored under the posts.
I had the opportunity to congratulate Haze later in the day and he immediately turned the praise to Sean Russell. And there was definitely justification in doing so.
During the opposed “match”, Russell made a couple of lengthy sprints downfield after being given space through terrific work by his inside men.
Later, during the red zone opposed drills, Russell demonstrated his pace and swerve when he cut back infield to score, then later he crossed in Russell trademark fashion – getting down low and dive/sliding into the corner.
There were others to also congratulate for the way they finished the week.
It’s impossible to ignore the Ice man.
Isaiah Papali’i is building impressively towards the season opener. He seems to be crossing the line in every opposed drill, beating defenders with the type of power line running that I first brought to everyone’s attention during the last preseason.
I have no doubt that Ice will be doing everything in his power to have an bigger season and depart the Eels on a high note.
Matto is looking very comfortable whenever he plays in the middle. His strength comes to the fore and he impresses as his involvement levels are high.
I haven’t mentioned Jordan Rankin too frequently this preseason. He has both a playing and a pathways coaching role with the club in 2022. Rankin has again been playing in the halves during opposed drills and he looks like the experienced footballer that the Eels recruited him to be. On Friday morning, I thought that his kicking game was worthy of praise.
After two of his winger compatriots had garnered most of the attention, Bailey Simonsson provided BA with a “hold my beer“ play when he converted a half chance to a try during the red zone drill. He first used his pace to get outside his opposite, then just as the defence looked to have him covered he produced one of those spectacular dives into the corner, with part of his body actually over the sideline.
Yes, we do see such moments on the training track.
Finally, Reg scored a try off a superb short ball from Rein, then Naiduki got over in the corner after Jake Arthur got on the outside of a defender to create an overlap.
There was a healthy dose of Malcolms run by the defending team to add fatigue during the red zone opposed drills. Footy remains a battle of attrition. Defensive effort on effort under fatigue is seen in every round, especially during repeat sets on the try line. Every team would be preparing for that during their preseason.