At what point will Eels training narrow its focus to preparing for the upcoming trials?
Monday’s session left me believing that such preparations had begun.
After watching Wednesday training, I had more questions than answers.
Let me explain why.
For the majority of this preseason, with just the odd exception due to player absence, the player combinations during opposed work have rarely varied.
I don’t report on how that’s organised because there are elements about Eels training that I naturally don’t include in my write ups. There’s a line between providing feedback for fellow supporters and revealing points of difference that might exist in the team’s preparation and I guard against crossing it.
On Monday, everything about the combinations changed. There was a mix of players on each opposed team that I hadn’t seen before.
My immediate thought was that one of those teams could be the one to take on the Dragons. It seemed logical that at this point they could be working towards their first match.
When Wednesday arrived, there were a few more changes. Enough for me to second guess my initial reaction to Monday’s line ups. Then again, there will be more than 17 players who take to the field in the trial.
It makes me even more curious about this Friday, given it’s typically the major opposed session of the week.
Now for the major takes from Monday and Wednesday.
The contact in the Monday session was closer to the type of “collision” witnessed at training during the season proper. Anyone who’s watched the team prepare during the season knows that there are fewer hits as the forwards mostly “surrender” in the tackle. Obviously the team wouldn’t belt the tripe out of each other three days before a game.
Waqa Blake caught the eye once again. He has been very sharp throughout a preseason which has easily been his best. One of his line breaks saw him explode through the defence line as his acceleration immediately put him ten metres past the closest defender.
The Wednesday session definitely lifted in intensity, with very little easing into defenders. I’d place the level of contact at least around 80% of premiership level.
Young outside back Josh Tuipulotu had a day out on the wing courtesy of Clint Gutherson being on fire with his involvements.
Josh, who was a fullback in the same Eels junior rep teams as Jake Arthur, Will Penisini, Sam Loizou and Sean Russell, scored early after having space created from a superb pass by the King.
Not long after, a smart short side play sent Tuipolutu down the wing before he linked with Mitch Moses for the try. He’s always been a talent, but with Naiduki and Russell likely to own the NSW Cup wing spots at the start of the season, I’d expect both Josh, and probably Matt Komolafe, to commence the year in Flegg.
Naiduki also produced a solid session. I was particularly pleased woth the intent in his kick returns.
Jordan Rankin produced a standout play after he seemed in trouble on the last tackle.
With defenders placing him under pressure as he looked to kick from just inside his half, he took the odds to stepping and running, eventually breaking the line. As the defence finally converged he placed a perfect kick into the in-goal to force the drop out.
Mitch Rein continued to justify his recruitment with another impressive showing. He enjoys engaging the defence, and in one memorable play found Moses running a great line which put him into the clear.
If I was to be critical of this session, I thought that there was a little too much dropped ball. On the few occasions that I’ve noted the pill hitting the turf, I’ve postulated that it’s come off the back of defensive pressure. That was undoubtedly a factor, but it was a little too frequent today in comparison to other sessions.
That said, the opposed component lasted longer than usual, and I thought that the squad finished the session strongly.
So back to the question. Has the focus shifted to preparing for the trials?
I’m looking forward to Friday for the answer.
(Photos of Waqa and Josh courtesy of Bocko, Eels media)