Up to now, my preseason training reports have taken the form of a weekly summary. With a collection of NRL players yet to return, and minimal opposed contact work, it was the best format to adopt.
However, this final field session of the year was a major point of difference. The focus was on the footy and there were enough noteworthy moments to provide a post dedicated to a single session.
After being given a heads up about the nature of this session, I fronted early in case the kick off was moved forward. This turned out to be worthwhile because I caught some of the skills work that takes place before the major field session commences.
The squad was split into groups that rotated around activity stations. Much of it related to passing skills such as offloads, long and short passes and dummy half service. There was also some contact work involved.
When the whistle blew to signal the completion to this “entree”, the squad left the field, returning around 40 minutes later for the main course.
The session commenced with warm ups and conditioning runs, but it wasn’t long before the squad was split into three teams, donning Blue, Red or Green bibs to denote their team.
As the morning unfolded some players were asked to fill a spot in multiple teams as there wasn’t quite enough in attendance to fill the third side.
The contrived opposed work was organised as follows:
Each time in possession began with an unopposed set taking the ball from a kick off into the opposition half
Attacking sets were then played out with contact. Scenarios such as penalties, scrums or drop outs were used as the starting points for each set. It appeared to be mostly structured play, giving the coaches the opportunity to assess the shapes that had been drilled (mostly unopposed) during every previous session.
Later in the morning, the sets from a kick off were played against an active defence.
My Notable Moments
* Jake providing an exquisite pass for Mataele to cross on the right edge
* Hodgson putting Lane through the line
* Ethan Sanders creating opportunities on the left side for his team
* Ogden crossing off Hodgson and generally proving a handful for defenders
* Jake working the left side, linking with Lane and delivering a delightful pass for the try
* Effortless accurate passing from Hodgson, linking quickly with his supports
* Murchie playing in the middle
* Hopgood in a lock role, demonstrating ball playing skills
* The wingers holding nothing back in going for the corners
* A big defensive play by Gutho holding a player up over the line
This wrapped up the pre-Christmas involvement of the pathways players, and without singling any out I can still say that they acquitted themselves quite well.
Of course, they are only completing one NRL field session per week, so it’s difficult to predict whether they could handle the physical demands of 5 days per week of NRL training. Given their age and experience, one NRL field session a week is probably an ideal introduction.
Whilst still being some years away from potential NRL debuts (and the reality is that some might not reach that level, or do so at Parra), there are a number who looked like they belonged (at least from a training track perspective) at this level.
Today represented the most prolonged and fluent practise of Parra’s structured attack against a physical defence. In previous sessions it was mostly drilled without opposition or in sequences of limited tackles.
Obviously I’m not going to break down how it differs from 2022. The structured play will be in evidence either during the trials or when the season commences. Based on what I’ve seen, we should look forward to what the team will produce in 2023.
As far as the NRL squad is concerned, Mataele was one of my standouts in this session. Last season he played on the left edge with Jake in the NSW Cup, but here he was running great lines on the right. Given his history with Jake, from Rouse Hill Rhinos and St Pats Blacktown through to senior footy, you would expect them to combine well.
At just 20 years of age, Jake Arthur was the senior half on the field today, and he performed accordingly. I’ve always had a high opinion of JA and Baz is already adding new dimensions to his game.
Finally, Josh Hodgson. I need time out to expand my list of superlatives so I’ll simply say he is a magician around the ruck.
Stand by for a pre-Christmas wrap up of the Eels preseason within the next few days. Maybe my deep dive into the thesaurus will be complete by then.