We are now four weeks in and this collection of new faces at Eels training is settling in to a rhythm. Given that many are young pathways products, new recruits or upgraded contracts, I’d suggest that after this week they are impressing the coaches.
The structure of the week remained the same, with the Flegg and SG Ball players participating in the Monday session and around 20 full time fellas continuing on Wednesday and Friday.
There were no new faces joining in this week, though I am expecting around a dozen NRL boys to return next week.
With every passing session, I am more convinced that the unwanted departure of Reed Mahoney has led to the Eels recruiting a player of significance. Josh Hodgson is not just driven to produce his best, he is motivated to help his team mates to become better players.
The morning kicked off with the typical conditioning runs before working into footy drills. Interestingly, some of the play featured contact with players being tackled to the ground.
The kick/chase drill again featured as the squad continued to build their energy and discipline with this aspect of the game.
The latter part of the morning had the team practising their shapes before extending this to working through full sets over the length of the field.
All of the pathways players have responded incredibly well to this opportunity. The improvement in what they are doing during the sessions is tangible. And that’s not restricted to their fitness levels. Having watched all of these players in junior reps, I can report that I’m seeing them producing moments of skill, lines run or effort plays that I hadn’t witnessed before. I’m looking forward to them taking this back to their teams when the season begins.
It’s always tough when the structure of the session sees the kick/chase game scheduled to immediately follow conditioning runs, but this is exactly what was in store for the squad.
To give some sense of the demands of this game, there are only three plays in possession, including the kick, and the defending team doesn’t position a fullback.
Impressively, a number of players provided effort play highlights including:
* Jayden Yates and Jake Arthur competing in a 40 metre chase
* Yates turning defence into attack
* Long distance try to Luca Moretti’ demonstrating surprising pace and the effort play from Wiremu Greig in chasing him towards the corner.
* Jake Arthur winning the chase off his own kick to score.
I have to mention the coaching from Steve Murphy during these games. He is constantly praising players or demanding better involvements from individuals and it keeps the energy levels high, not to mention providing terrific commentary for an observer such as myself.
The remainder of the morning saw the squad completing “Malcolm’s” (Up downs) and defence line movements, before working in corridors on the field, focussing on both attacking and defensive decision making.
Sean Russell is deserving of a shout out for a number of classy moments. He looks a bit bigger and a bit faster and fairly glides across the field. Russell might be the forgotten player in the battle for a centre or wing position but I suspect that he fully intends to remind the coaches of his talents and claims.
This would turn out to be the best session thus far of this preseason. The fairest thing to do would be to write up an effort play or a PB for each player, but that’s not what I set out to do as I took my notes.
However, as the morning unfolded it became obvious that the fellas had found something extra, which was reflected in their conditioning efforts or their plays.
Of course it would not be a Friday without those demanding M runs. Though there was a difference.
Today, sets of those conditioning runs alternated throughout the morning with footy, including “pole footy” and unstructured attack/defence games. The unstructured stuff is a personal favourite of mine as it showcases the skills and footy smarts of individual players, and those who find an extra gear when not giving up on plays.
How many sets of the runs would be completed between those games?
That was changed up too as Trent Elkin and the coaches kept the players guessing about what was coming next. I thought this was a terrific change up for this session.
The M Run standouts included Jayden Yates, Jake Arthur, Dan Keir, Brendan Hands, Jock Brazel and Josh Hodgson. The big mover was Jack Murchie. Our recruit from the Warriors has picked up his conditioning and he pushed through the pack to be sitting just behind the front runners.
Within the games/footy component of the session, Daejarn Asi showed impressive pace in scoring a try. Other notable moments included a chase from Komolafe that put Yates into the goal post pad (he was ok), defensive efforts from Matt Doorey and Toni Mataele, deceptive attacking plays from Jirah Momoisea and Jock Brazel, and the acceleration of Ethan Sanders.
The morning concluded with defensive drills led by Steve Antonelli. Specific teaching points in technique were drilled and the cohesion within the coaching team came to the fore.
With the squad split into two groups, Antonelli took one group, and Nathan Cayless the other. Arthur, Murphy and Barrett moved between the groups, providing feedback to individuals or reminders of the specific teaching points.
Last week, I concluded my report by highlighting the leadership of Josh Hodgson. My praise for our highest profile recruit is even stronger this week.
From his effortless precision passing to the guidance provided to his young charges, the English international is a quality addition to the club.
By way of another specific example, during Friday’s session Hodgson took a moment to speak to the group he was working with. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but from the moment he began speaking the players seemed focussed on his every word.
The other interested audience member was BA, who was walking across from observing the other group as Hodgson began speaking. When Hodgo wrapped up, Arthur immediately called him over and directed him to speak to the other group.
In a relatively short period of time, Josh Hodgson looks to have earned a very high respect from his peers and the coaches.
I’m looking forward to watching his combinations with other senior players develop as the NRL players return both next week and then in January.