The Cumberland Throw

Eels Pre-Season Training – February 28, 2022: Awards And Predictions

The trials are now done and so the preseason comes to an end.

Regular visitors to TCT would have noted that the training reports have recently been conspicuous by their absence. There are reasons behind that.

Frankly, the conditions have been, on occasion, awful. At least one session was impossible to watch with the deluge restricting attendance to the dry comfort of the car. It was basically pointless being there.

Primarily, the team moved into match preparation mode over the previous two weeks which made it impossible to report. The conditioning tapers and the starting team works on plays specific to their opponent.

Consequently, during the previous week I witnessed what the team would be, including positional switches. Like the premiership proper, as an Eels supporter it’s not my business to make such things public. It’s why my observations from training shut down at the end of the preseason.

My goal in writing preseason training reports is to provide details about training structure, individual progress, player attitudes and application, in addition to highlights from sessions.

Hopefully, the reports provide a window to what might lay ahead – for the team, but specifically for individual players.

Before I get to my preseason gongs, it’s important to note that this has been a preseason like no other.

When we all came out of lockdown, it was business as usual for a few short weeks before Christmas. Then the Omicron wave hit – and it didn’t miss!

Visitors were not permitted to training. Kellyville is an open park, so the restrictions meant being asked to remain at a distance.

In previous years I could view the work from different angles, such as behind the posts. This made it easy to watch for the lines being run, the movement of the defence, and the leadership talk from particular players. It was also possible to catch a few words with staff.

After the Christmas break, things reverted to near bubble-like conditions.

From a report perspective, I became concerned that my vantage point didn’t allow me to give enough credit to the work of the forwards. Big collisions could still be noticed, and line breaks highlighted, but the defensive loads or support runs were literally in a blind spot.

So with that caveat providing all of my necessary excuses, it’s time for my awards and predictions. In some categories, I’m steering clear of many of the stars, with the goal being to identify those lesser known whose training screamed out, “look at me!”

Best In Pre-Season

Jake Arthur

The King regularly features here, and there’s no reason to discount him this year. Gutherson looks primed for a massive season and is as focussed as I’ve ever seen him. The co-captain is the leader out there and never stops barking at his troops. When he misses a session, the energy levels drop noticeably.

However, this year Jake Arthur gets the nod.

The 19 year old half has led the conditioning challenge against Gutherson, and when the opposed sessions kicked up a notch, he was ready to be the dominant half.

This in no way detracted from the performances of Moses and Brown. Both look set for big seasons and indeed issued alerts to all rivals with their play on Saturday night.

But Jake’s claims for this award cannot be ignored. Anyone watching the trials couldn’t help but be impressed with his form.


Most Improved

This is going to seem an unusual selection, but this gong goes to Waqa Blake.

Waqa Blake

How on earth a 140 game NRL “veteran” earns my most improved could be answered by anyone watching the preseason with me.

I can’t recall Waqa ever enjoying an uninterrupted summer prior to now, and that’s been reflected in his track form.

The power, pace and aggression demonstrated during opposed work was thoroughly irresistible to watch. His combination with Haze Dunster was going to be a match winner for the Eels.

Will he now play centre or winger?

That’s a question I didn’t expect to be answering in 2022.

Best Back

The King

Clinton Gutherson is the only choice.

When it comes to effort, the Eels custodian epitomises being a role model. Whenever challenged by the young guns, he finds another gear. Even if someone gets the better of him in a session, it just doesn’t happen again.

Everyone knows what the King brings to the table. Even if I find a new superlative or two, you’ve heard it all before.

Feel free to fill in your own reasons and you’ll probably be correct.


Best Forward

Despite a late surge from Ofahiki Ogden, Ray Stone is the stand out. He started the preseason n the best shape of his career and has been relentless in his application since then.

Ray Stone

When I tried to select the round one team, even with forwards out of action, I couldn’t find a place for Stone. I was erroneously considering his limitations rather than the qualities he brings to the team. When he’s on the field, watch the energy as he moves up and back in defence. When he’s in a tackle, he literally sprints into position after peeling off the ruck.

Mr 3:16 is due to join others in a new home next year. His preseason sent a massive signal to BA that he wants to leave on a high note.


Next To Debut

Elie El-Zakhem

The significant number of players getting a late season debut in 2021 somewhat limited the field, but there are a couple of players worthy of contention. I’ve selected Elie El-Zakhem.

Had the energetic back rower travelled north with the bubble last year, it’s likely that he would have earned his stripes then.

If El- Zakhem can reproduce his 2021 form in the NSW Cup, he’ll go very close to getting his shot.


Break Out Player

I’d earn no kudos for nominating Will Penisini. His debut season stamped his potential for a massive 2022. My other consideration, Haze Dunster, will now have to bide his time in rehab.

Makahesi Makatoa

Makahesi Makatoa is therefore the man.

Henceforth known as Krakatoa, or maybe The Volcano, Makatoa has just earned an Eels contract extension. He’s also probably earned the bewilderment of supporters who can’t believe that he had to wait so long for his NRL debut.

This was Maka’s first full preseason with the club, and we always suspected that he’d continue to improve with that level of preparation behind him.

I reckon he’ll get a decent share of top grade games in 2022.


Watch This Space

There are two contenders here.

Brendan Hands was recruited from the Riff to show what he can do at dummy half. He immediately impressed with his snappy service and capacity to challenge the A and B defenders.

Hands is one of the fittest in the club and is in contention with Jayden Yates for the back up dummy half role at NSW Cup level. Yates has the versatility to fill other roles so that might open up the opportunity for Hands to specialise as a dummy half.

Samuel Loizou

I rate Mitch Rein as an NRL player, but if Hands gets his opportunity, I expect him to take it with, well, both hands.

Samuel Loizou is the other to watch. Loizou is a first grade player of the future. He was still only 16 years old when representing the Australian Schoolboys team a few years back. Despite limited game time in 2021, Samuel was able to make his NRL debut in round 25.

The tall athletic centre will be looking to play consistent footy at NSW Cup level in 2022 as a stepping stone to further NRL opportunities.


That wraps up my preseason reports.

To everyone who has read and/or commented on the posts over summer, thank you for getting involved.

To the people who I met for the first time at Kellyville, or in many cases said hello once again, I really appreciated the conversations.

Bring on the season!

Eels forever!


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38 thoughts on “Eels Pre-Season Training – February 28, 2022: Awards And Predictions

  1. Colin Hussey

    Sixties – your words! Bring on the season, too long before it happens.

    Great post and will have another time to consider and comment.

  2. Anonymous

    I read not so long ago a follower wrote your pre season reports were all to good and parra sounded all to good and we were going to be undefeated. Well what I saw on Saturday was what I expected from your reporting, bring the running game (waqa) as strong as I’ve seen him,” stone” hitting as hard, two or three folding players over. Everything I have followed on the pre season was on show and I was not disappointed. Well done on your efforts in keeping me and everyone else in the Cumberland throw,” go parra”

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Anon. I only ever report what I am seeing and to that end I even take notes because the recollections from one session can easily cloud another.
      As I stated above, it wasn’t the easiest preseason to report, but the obvious stand outs proved their track form in the trials. Now for them to bring it into the season.

    1. sixties Post author

      He was a surprise packet last year and will have the benefit of a preseason behind him this year. The ball’s in his court now.

  3. Dday

    Good blog Sixties, interesting to hear your impressions. It sounds like the standard has been high and the trials are the proof. There is some serious depth in every position – happy days

    1. sixties Post author

      The weekly grind becomes the true litmus test from here on doesn’t it. But the players delivered the training track form in Saturday’s trial. They are fit, motivated, and have worked on having points of difference to last year.

  4. BDon

    Tks sixties. An NRL season is 6 months, but thanks to the TCT team we get 12 months of the game and what makes it tick.
    Reading the above report and watching the 2 trials I get the feeling there is big upside in many individuals, including the proven ones.

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers BDon. I reckon that nobody in the group takes their position for granted. I also think that the players moving on look especially motivated. They seem really focussed. It’s a long season but the early signs are positive.

      1. Grunta

        Do you think the players leaving being in such good touch could be a bit of a, ‘stuff you BA, you wouldn’t find the money, I’m gonna show you what you’ve lost”, kind of attitude? It’s crossed my mind a couple of times.

        1. sixties Post author

          Absolutely zero chance Grunta, for two reasons.
          Firstly, they all are grateful for what BA has done for them on and off the field, and it’s been documented a few times already.
          Secondly, BA isn’t involved in the financial discussions with player agents so they’d have no gripe with him. Anyway, the players were wanted, we were out bid.

          1. Grunta

            I didn’t believe that was the case, but it’s an interesting game nowadays and we’ve all learnt to follow the club, not the player recently! Anyway, thanks for clearing that up sixties.
            Having read your reply again, BA must get disappointed if he has little to do with the purse and someone lets him know he’s losing four top tier players, one by one.

          2. sixties Post author

            Perhaps in some instances Grunta, but he would also have a price that he’d place on players too. And top of the market price or above for a couple of players comes at a price for the squad, something that he’d be all over. I also think that he’d have confidence in his ability to develop players.

    1. sixties Post author

      Ronny, how does any player get to make their debut? Injuries and their own good form. I’ve looked at those in the squad yet to play NRL and I think he’s most likely. An injury to both Reed and Mitch Rein could see Hands go close.
      Furthermore, our back row stocks have limited specialist back rowers. It’s more that we have players who can cover both edge and middle. As I stated, if Elie had been put in the group that travelled to Queensland last year, his form during the season would probably have secured a round 25 debut then.

  5. Julie

    Thanks for all the reports , so informative and unbiased opinion on players new and old , can’t wait to watch our boy Brendan play a full season after 2 yrs of Covid lockdown . He is loving the positive vibe around the club

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks for replying Julie. Any NRL club is the sum of all its parts, and success comes from everyone feeling like they are a part of something special. I believe we are on the right path. Brendan has impressed.

  6. Jimmy Corbo

    Thank you Sixties, your reports are always great reading and feed the beast during the offseason where we are left craving footy. Another season full of hope and promise is set to commence, let’s see what 2022 brings us. C’mon Eels……….

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Jimmy. As I wrote, it’s been a different and challenging preseason, but I am convinced that Parra has done well regardless.
      Bring it on.

  7. Anonymous

    Thanks Sixties. I always look forward to your adeptly penned descriptions of all things Parra. While the riff were missing players imho Parra looked the best of any teams in the trial. Brown’s running game was superb, the King was the King, Moses was brilliant. Basically the whole team clicked. Most impressive though was our defence. It was impregnable.
    Really looking forward to the season and hope to get to a game at our beautiful stadium from rain drenched Murwillumbah.

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks for replying Anon, and all of our best wishes for you and everyone else affected by the floods.
      Without going overboard about the trial, there was plenty to like in our form and most importantly our attitude.

  8. greg okladnikov

    Great pre season reports as always by the team at TCT. Now it is time for the real stuff to start. Go Parra !!

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Greg. I reckon we all need the real footy to start, and in my opinion Parra will have a point to prove this year.

  9. Zero58

    Mr Sixties, it certainly is appreciated the way you are our eyes and ears. When fans reside interstate most games, if not all, are viewed through the lens of expert commentators which can be so frustratingly bias. I have to say your reports are exactly that reports without bias, without expressions of frustration and positive.
    Your reports are so positive that, I admit, it raises our expectations.
    Reports of the up and coming players allow us to take a look when we can. Up here we rarely get a lower grade match televised or even delayed replay.
    What this gives us is a map of the future. Losing players is not good especially the real good ones but recognizing young ones coming through tell us we are planning ahead.
    When young ones give their all at training it tells us they can smell and see the carrot and are prepared to work for it.
    It’s these things that gives spirit to the club.
    If this year has a big vibe then 2023 looks really interesting even with those lost players.
    Thank you for your reports – sometimes we can’t get enough.

    1. sixties Post author

      These are very kind words. I am unabashedly an Eels supporter With training I try to accurately report the positives that I see. If I think there are more errors than there should be, I won’t shy from including that.
      I’m acutely aware of the role that TCT can play in connecting distant fans. This also includes the family and friends of players, particularly the young ones. That’s another part of the reason for including details on as many of the squad as I can.

  10. Nightmare Off-Season

    Great read as always & thanks for all the hard work throughout the preseason, Sixties. Pretty hard not to be excited about this season

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Nightmare. I look forward to trials as the first validation of what I’ve noted during the preseason. But the most important validation now lies ahead. There is something special about the preparation to this season. It’s a long campaign and we couldn’t ask for more from the preseason.

  11. Anonymous

    Hi sixties, where nearly there…!!!!
    What about the 30,000 + members already. Do you think it would be wise to look at moving the Tigers (Easter game) to ANZ ….!!!????

    1. sixties Post author

      They won’t be moving it. That is a game which will likely be for Eels members only. If you aren’t a member there’s every chance you won’t be able to get a ticket as it’s likely to sell out.

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