The Cumberland Throw

Eels Pre-Season Training – December 31, 2022: Mid Point Review

Every preseason, when the squad breaks for their Christmas holidays, I use the opportunity to compile a mid point review on the progress of the team, the individual players and the coaching input.

In piecing this together, it’s interesting to reflect back on my initial expectations of the squad and the preseason.

I was confident about the value of signing Hodgson, but after his early contributions on the training track, I may have actually underestimated his recruitment.

My other re-think concerns what the pre-Christmas training period would offer. With so many key players missing, I made the decision to restrict reports to a weekly format. Whilst I think that was the right call, there was much to like about the work of the fringe and pathways players who made up the core group for most sessions.

These players set the positive and hungry tone that I wanted to see as the Eels rebounded from a grand final loss. The season just gone was a successful one, but not quite successful enough. New blood coming through, applying pressure on positions (be it now or in the future), will help to drive the goals for 2023 and beyond.

Before launching into my review, here’s a reminder.

The squad is training full time. In observing the major field sessions, I’m only taking in three half mornings of conditioning and footy. The workload is different on other days and has to allow for recovery periods. There will also be gym sessions, contact/wrestling work, video analysis and review, team and individual meetings, as well as kicking, passing and catching drills.

Furthermore, it should also be obvious that I never report on important specifics. After all, I’m not at training to provide notes for opponents, which is why training reports do not run through the season proper.

So, with disclaimers out of the way, here’s my overview of the preseason to date:


Despite having three new faces on the coaching team – Barrett, Antonelli and Cayless – the structure and flow of the field sessions is outstanding. I understand there is also a new contact/wrestle coach but I have no details on that person nor have I seen any of those sessions as they are most likely in the gym.

The cohesion reflects well on the dynamics within the footy department staff and also on the planning and execution of training.

Very little if any time is wasted during the two to two and a half hours of work. As you’d expect, markers, poles and drink stations are in place before the players hit the paddock, but it’s fascinating to watch the precision involved in setting them out. Then, as players move through their work, staff collect and put in place whatever equipment is needed for upcoming drills, be it markers, bibs, jerseys, footballs, bump pads or tackle bags.

Players move quickly between drills, ensuring that there is a conditioning component throughout. Aside from time taken for hydration, feedback and instruction, work is often done under fatigue, just as it is in a match.

Every coach is involved in the session, either leading a drill, coaching a group or moving around to provide individual feedback. And when it’s time for any opposed work, it’s Football Manager Craig Sultana taking on referee duties, ensuring that the coaches are all able to focus on their charges. (NRL referees are typically used later in the preseason for major opposed sessions).

For long term coaches like Brad Arthur, this is significant.

Brad and Baz at Rep training (image courtesy Eels media)

Whilst there is no doubt that BA is the head honcho in proceedings, it’s important that the players hear other voices. The messages will be from the same page, but listening to someone else deliver them reduces the likelihood of monotony.

Over the last decade, I’ve watched Arthur freshen things up. Training times, days, structures and drills have changed, even within a season, and new staff or consultants have been introduced. And this year, with the absence of World Cup players, he’s taken the opportunity to involve the Flegg and Ball players, with this group primarily composed of the 2022 JETS participants. More on that later.

We’ve had a chance to say g’day and welcome all of the new coaches to the Eels (or welcome back as it were to Caylo). Actually Steve Antonelli has been involved in some sessions in past years.

It seems that they have all gelled very quickly and from what I’ve seen it looks like they genuinely enjoy working together.


Coaching Structure

All coaches are involved with all aspects of coaching. However, there are still responsibilities with Murf and Baz looking after the attack, Antonelli the defence, and Caylo handling the NSW Cup. At this whole squad preseason stage, Cayless seems to take on more of a defence role. Trent Elkin is the Head of Performance and leads all of the physical conditioning.

As head coach, Arthur oversees everything, driving standards. Defence looks to be a strong priority for him.

As mentioned before, each coach leads drills at some stage of each session. Because every coach jumps in to take a group, BA can move around and assess individual and group effort and execution.

There are times when his feedback is a quiet word with a player. There are times when it’s calling out individual praise, or pulling up the group for reminders about goals or standards. To be fair you witness similar methods from all of the coaches, but they each have their unique way of delivering. Again, different voices but consistent messaging.


Points of Difference

There have obviously been things that have worked for the Eels over the last four seasons. You don’t play finals football or play in a decider if there aren’t aspects of your football that are successful.

However, a title hasn’t been won and there are new coaching and player faces. Changes will be the natural consequence of this.

Barrett is renowned for his work shaping the Panthers attack and for putting the finishing touches to Nathan Cleary. Antonelli will bring his methods and philosophy in defence.

Cutting to the chase, there will be differences in both sides of how we play, but this is where I draw the line in what I report.


The New Faces

All of the new faces have put themselves into contention for a top 17 berth in the pre-Christmas period. The next step will be how they measure up during the serious opposed sessions competing against and alongside the returning World Cup players.

At this stage, I’m amending my earlier bench selections as I believe Matterson, Murchie and Momoisea could be regulars from the interchange. I’m also rating Doorey and Hopgood in line for starting roles on the edge and at lock respectively.

I could be wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise to see the final bench spot rotate throughout the season depending on opponents, form and coverage for specific positions. It might also be that Arthur reduces the workload on Hodgson and accordingly uses a back up dummy half at 14.

Murchie at Eels training

I’ll single out Murchie for a comment as many supporters have tipped him to play on the edge. From what I’ve seen, he’s heading for a middle forward position, which is why I’ve listed him as a potential regular off the bench, taking the spot occupied by Kaufusi in 2022.

Daejarn Asi offers utility value and covers many backline positions. I haven’t seen him settle in any spot during the limited opposed work thus far. A reason for this is that some of this early training requires some players to simply fill spots. Therefore, I’ll reserve judgement on where he is best suited until the serious opposed work commences.


Josh Hodgson

This bloke has earned a section to himself. He will be pivotal to the Eels chances in 2023, but it goes deeper than just his key role in the spine.

Make no mistake, the English dummy half has arrived as a leader and his impact at training is already profound.

My training reports have already contained examples of his influence on the training track, but in summation he guides, he inspires, he directs, he sets examples. He will be akin to an on-field coach.

What if injury strikes?

That’s the elephant in the room, but it’s also a negative perspective. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating. This veteran recruit is actually an investment in the Eels future. He is genuinely going to make those around him better players. In the short time he’s been around the place he’s impressed me more than any previous recruit, and that’s a huge statement.

The rest of his story as an Eel is his to write.

Early Bolter Tips

If there’s a round 1 bolter, it could come from someone who was selected for the 2022 opener – Sean Russell. The gifted local product looks in brilliant shape, stronger and possibly faster than previous seasons. He literally glides over the turf as he runs.

There is competition for backline spots, but both Dunster and Simonsson are returning from significant injuries. Though Simonsson is likely to be available for the start of the season, and Dunster would also be aiming for a similar goal, Russell might just get the jump on them by being available through every week of the pre-season.

My other two potential bolters may not get their shot until after round 10 as both are on Development contracts.

Zac Cini

Zac Cini has removed the mullet and stated that he means business. He is a powerful unit and continues to transition from wing to centre. Given the opportunities available in the outside backs following the departure of Tom Opacic and injuries to others, it might only take another injury or two for Cini to be called up.

Toni Mataele is my early tip for breakout player of the year. I fully expect him to make his debut at some point despite the limitations of being on the development list. Those getting to NSW Cup games should look for his combination with Jake Arthur on the edge. Mataele really knows how to hit the line.

Second Tier Contenders

Brendan Hands, Jayden Yates, Dan Keir, Luca Moretti, Matt Komolafe, Jontay-Junior Betham-Misa and Tevita Taumoepenu (there is some talk he has a Development deal but I haven’t been able to confirm it) all sit outside the top 30. However, none of them are strangers to the Eels as they have all been in the Eels system for at least the 2022 season.

Matt Komolafe

In the case of Yates, Komolafe, and JJBM all are pathways players and each are probably looking in the best condition that I’ve seen them in.

Dan Keir could be the surprise packet. Injury and opportunities weren’t kind to him in 2022, but he was a solid performer whenever called upon. He has turned up at this preseason determined to make a statement.


Pre-Season Contracts

Jock and Josh

Ethan Sanders, Charlie Guymer and Jock Brazel have been training with the NRL squad as part of their pathways contracts. That should mean that they continue to train with the group for a few more weeks into the New Year.

All three are teenagers, so alongside familiarising them with the requirements and demands of first grade football, there is also a workload management component. That said, they can all be proud of how they’ve matched more experienced players during conditioning work.

These young players will likely play Jersey Flegg in 2023, though it’s not out of the realms of possibility that “The Colonel” will get a taste of NSW Cup.

The Pathways Players

I’ve made a point of not naming the SG Ball and Flegg players involved with the preseason, but my goodness this was a golden opportunity that all grasped with both hands.

After looking like a little uncertain in some drills during their very first session, it was full steam ahead from there on. You could literally see individuals growing in confidence with every session as their development was accelerated during this six week period.

It’s my opinion that their inclusion wasn’t just beneficial for them, it was also good for the coaches.

The energy and rawness of these young players provided an extra dimension to the early preseason, especially with so many “names” missing. I reckon that the coaches thrived on this, and the one club philosophy was reinforced for both staff and players.


What Lies Ahead?

First and foremost we can look forward to the return of the World Cup players throughout January. This will be determined by when their Cup campaign ended. Junior and RCG will therefore be the last on deck.

Next, we can expect plenty of football.

Not much more than a month of training is available before the first of the NRL trials in February, and the coaches will need to accelerate the learning of returning internationals.

There are attacking shapes, defensive techniques and systems to be drilled, and any new combinations will get minimal time together. That means no minutes to waste.

Consequently, I’m expecting serious opposed sessions will be on the agenda and that’s when I really enjoy watching the squad at work.

Another challenge for the staff will be ensuring that the conditioning of the returning players is brought to hand as quickly as possible.

Though all will be maintaining a level of fitness whilst on their break, and probably have programs to follow, it’s not the same as competing and running under fatigue as they do during an Eels preseason.

All clubs with players in the World Cup will be in a similar position. How well every club manages those returning will go a long way in determining how they commence the 2023 season.

Eels forever!


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68 thoughts on “Eels Pre-Season Training – December 31, 2022: Mid Point Review

  1. HINDY111

    Interesting on Russel. I assumed Haze would get the wing spot.

    Any word on Bryce? How has he looked? I thought he may even end up leaving and looking at the UK.

    Have a good new years 60s

    1. !0 Year Member

      I think Carty has shown his decision-making to be lacking. He almost always makes the wrong one. I love the way BA persists with all players under his tutelage….I know he really believes in then. But like N Brown and C Norman….. They all have a used by date. Cartys NRL foray may have come to an end

      1. sixties Post author

        Carty is training well and fitness won’t be a question. He can still pull out tricks that few can, even on the training track. So when they do unstructured footy drills he still looks a natural.

    2. sixties Post author

      I had the opportunity to speak with Haze and his goal is to return around the start of the season. I’m being realistic about the magnitude of his injury and if he is ok to play, it does take some time to return to best footy after such an injury. I don’t think they’ll rush him.

      1. !0 Year Member

        Will be disappointed if Haze has an impact to his speed…. But like gutho. Maybe he should be getting groomed for centre. The kid is a talent

          1. Colin Hussey

            Haze’s first NRL outing (from memory) was when he was called up to replace Michael Jennings who had been provisionally suspended. With both Sivo out also Fergo out injured it was a big call for him in his first NRL game.

            I had watched him in trial matches and along with Russel both showed promise and I believed that both were future NRL players in the making, his injury that knocked him out in the first outing last year was something of a tragedy and considering the rough fan treatment towards him that he was not an NRL player was very much proven to be wrong (IMHO) the injury was sad but he still should have a VG future with the eels but will take some recovery time as he comes back from his year long injury.

            As you say Sixties he deserves success and for me has the potential for a long term playing future.

          2. sixties Post author

            Dunster basically hadn’t played in 2020 when he made his debut in the finals match. He had trained as part of the bubble but there had been no lower grades and he had not prepared to play in the game. That he performed so well was great credit to him.
            His 13 NRL games in 2021 earned him the rookie of the year award so I think most fans had acknowledged that he played good consistent footy. In fact his best games came late in the 2021 season.
            The thing about Haze is that he took a bit longer to debut compared to others from his pathways group. He is now 23, turning 24 this year. And he is still with the club, whilst most of his peer group are no longer here.

          3. Colin Hussey

            I never had any doubts to his abilities, and those early games did show that he was up to the NRL standard, maybe somewhat nervy standard but once he got the chance he did the job wanted for him by team and coach.

            Getting his knee right is the most important thing for him to concentrate on getting it right & have no doubt that he will make that happen.

            Would love to see him play to his strengths & abilities come this season.

            Welcome back Haze.

  2. Colin Hussey

    A very enjoyable read indeed Sixties, looking forward to each report especially with the various pointers to the players and what they already are offering, seems to be some real power and progress from a number of them.

    1. sixties Post author

      That’s been the encouraging part. Genuine development, younger players putting their hand up and pathways boys bringing the energy and I reckon this gets the coaches even more enthused.

  3. Brent Marando

    Great write up, really exciting times ahead. Despite the constant “players departing, window closed” narrative shoved down our throats from the media, I’m as confident as ever ‘23 could be the year we are taken to the promised land.

    1. sixties Post author

      Brent, my only concern was not about the talent. It was about any potential mental let down from falling short in the GF. That concern has been erased.

  4. Marty

    Great read thankyou 60’s, soo good to have first hand account of the fella’s training and who’s impressing.
    One bloke I do hope goes big is Grieg, I saw when he played for Māori AS and he was damaging, but sweet f a since, do you have some intel here mate?

    1. sixties Post author

      Marty, his fitness has probably gone up another notch coming into this preseason, so no doubt he has worked on that. Why is that important for him. For mine, his issue has always been consistency of effort during his stints. His work rate can drop off in defence. He has the big hits but he needs to work harder around the ruck. This will help.

      1. Marty

        Ok so he be a tad lazy at times. I feel he has the potential to sit in the 17 along with Ogden. Ogden was fierce for the Dogs a couple yr ago so I hope he gets that back.
        A bench of Wiremu Ogden Murchie & a 14 to assist Hodgson would be solid. Yes there are plenty of positional contests coming up in the forwards and backs, so that competitive stakes keeps every player on notice and performance levels high

        1. sixties Post author

          Marty, whatever the reason for being tardy around the ruck, he’s putting himself in better shape to compete there.

  5. Martin Pluss

    Another top shelf review

    Pleased to read everything is professional from set up to the finish.

    Excellent that BA is driving standards and that all coaches are repeating same messages.

    Love the fact that players move quickly between micro session with little or no down time.

  6. Mick

    Great write up Sixties. I honestly believe we have a stronger squad than last season. Can’t wait to see Hodgson and Hopgood in Eels colours, Matto is going to find it hard to get that 13 jumper from Hopgood. BTW, what position has Matto been training at?, it will have a major impact on our bench selection plus, we have the players now, especially with the “supposed” signing of Taupau, we will get our 4 man bench back.
    All the best for the New Year.

    1. sixties Post author

      Matto hasn’t done enough opposed work for me to say he’s training in a specific position. I’ll get more of an idea during January.

  7. pete

    Great read Sixties.
    Really appreciate your insights into the team and players and your content.
    IMHO Hodgo is our best signing in years (Steve Edge MK2). When the team is under fatigue we will have that extra on-field leader in the pivotal No 9 position to martial the forwards and help control the ruck and our line speed. It will be interesting how he is used and the associated bench composition.
    The only worry I have is the relatively short pre-seseason post WC and hopefully we will not be impacted by that.
    Looking forward to season ’23!!
    Happy New Year to the TCT team and thanks for keeping us up to date!

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Pete, happy new year to you and your family too. The other thing about Hodgson is that he engages the A and B defenders in a way that Reed didn’t. Reed’s precision passing was his strength but his line engagement is not like Hodgson.

  8. John Eel

    Sixties is there any word about whether Browny is going to the Tigers?

    Reading that item you posted on Eels in the news it reads like the Tigers are happy with their forward signings and Brown isn’t one of them.

    1. sixties Post author

      I’m not hearing anything, but that’s not unusual. I’ll still back it in that he moves on. Parra has already paid two months of his 2023 contract, so with every day that passes he becomes cheaper for another club to pick up.

  9. Greg Okladnikov

    Great review as always. Squad sounds like it is shaping up well. Daejam Asi could be our version of a Jerome Hughes style of player as a utility off the bench who can cover a few positions in the spine and then allow 3 big men on the bench. Happy New Year – see you in 2023 !!

    1. sixties Post author

      Possibly Greg. I’ll be interested in whether they lock him into one position once opposed commences or whether he fills multiple spots. Looking forward to catching up mate.

  10. BDon

    Another season, another year gone. Cricket doesn’t do all that much for me these days,I can no longer tell you what won the Melbourne Cup but I still soak up the Eels and NRL. In fact thanks to TCT I know more about Parra than I ever have. Keep on keeping on sixties and team, have a great 2023. How do we close the gap between top 4/ Grand finalist and Premiers?

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks BDon. That’s a huge compliment. As for closing the gap, I used to wonder the same regarding the Storm who seemed to bundle us out of finals football with frustrating regularity. We did that. I think we out Storm the Storm. Do we aim to out-Penrith Penrith? Better line speed, better kick chase, better physicality, better unstructured footy?

  11. Anonymous

    If Ogden gets his head and body right he will be fierce off the bench.
    If the Ginger Ninja gets a centre spot he is going to hold it.
    Hope it all comes together for Carty next year. Love watching him play.
    Asi is still the mystery player. Dont know where he will play and how long his sojourn will be.

    1. sixties Post author

      Ogden had a very good final session – gave the defence problems with his Carrie’s. Cini was full on entertainment in NSW Cup in 2022. He refused to be tackled in every carry and it felt like something could come from every involvement. Carty could fluctuate from looking several classes above every player to making head scratching decisions. I guess that’s always been him, but few can do what he can. I imagine how Asi will be used will become clearer through January.

  12. Milo

    One of the best reads all off season and they have all been very good. Well done – for me we need to mentally tougher than 22. Those small things – kick chase / ruck / forward shape with ball and starting games. Team is looking good. We must get better at starting games and on field leaders need to lead and be calm! Calling Hodgson into the fold.

    1. sixties Post author

      Milo, every recent season has produced elements of improvement, even if last year still had those down games. But then there has to be those small things that you mention that require improvement. Hodgson will be key.

  13. Dave Swadling

    Great read, like so many others its a bit hard to see them training when you live hours away so to be able to read these updates, specially like this one, its awesome to be able to kind of be in the loop…

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Dave. That’s my goal. I try as best I can to paint a picture about what’s happening. The more regular posts are my run down on what they’ve been doing. As a review, this one is more about my takes on where they are at, who is impressing and why.

  14. Offside

    That was a good read thanks 60s. Recent history shows the teams with the bigger world cup representation tend to have slower starts to the next season
    I think the world cup hangover will open up the comp early having a number of our top 17 already in training will benefit us down the track.

    I must admit I’ve enjoyed this off season more then ever normally I can’t wait till the season starts but that GF broke me but thankfully I’ve had alot of cricket soccer and basketball to fill the void.

    I personally don’t think we will win the comp anytime soon I just don’t think we’re the type of club that will win its not in our DNA but I think we will be more competitive then people think let’s bring on 23

    1. sixties Post author

      Offside, it’s generally a safe bet for the supporters of nearly every club to put money on not winning given only one club can do so and how dominant the Panthers have been. It’s easy to say, but damn we would have been close in the last two years without the Riff, given what happened in 21 as well.
      But if your team qualifies for finals footy you keep that window open and that determination pumping.
      Parra will as you say do better than most expect. We will play finals footy. Beyond that is up to them but I’m confident we’ll be in the mix and have plenty to cheer for in 23.

      1. John Eel

        I think that we will be in the top 4 again. Fox Sports has us missing the 8.

        I have a screenshot of Jamie Soward saying the same thing last year (2022)

        1. Big Derek

          Think they have over rated the players leaving, sure Papalii will be missed but there was an awful lot of cover work needed on his side of the field , given his issues in defence.That said, his power running was good, not convinced he will be as dynamic at the Tigers.

          Mahoney, is an enigma, high work rate etc but again was missing in defence. Marata was useful in our system, and hope he does well at the Warriors as he is such a likeable guy, the rest were handy in reality. Think we may have covered their losses , so the fall off predicted is exaggerated.

          Let’s face it , as said before only 2 teams move the dial in Sydney, Parra and Souffs, so the criticism is par for the course. Particularly for suspects like Ritchie, Crawley, Read etc as the leaks from the club are a thing of the past.

          Confident we will have another good season

          1. Anonymous

            We lost 2 players of consequence. We signed one of very high potential in Hopgood. An experienced forward leader in Hodgson {Obviously some risk.}
            The others are more then adequately replaced by new recruits and current reserves. Those who claim our window is shut really havent done their research. Its just lazy writing.

          2. sixties Post author

            Derek, it’s true about moving the dial. They have to keep those Parra stories happening.

          3. Anonymous

            Even if Hodgson does go down I thought Rein played pretty well in the games I saw last year.
            He will definitely do a job. The small amount of time I saw Hands at DH he looked to have a nice flat pass off the ground and be very vocal in his organising.

          4. !0 Year Member

            You must have been watching different matches to myself. The top flight games Mitch played were not of first grade standard. I admit I never watched and of his cup games.

          5. Anonymous

            I did watch some reserve games and he played strong. So yes I was watching different matches to you.

          6. BDon

            Rein was given a couple of chances in NRL and I thought played OK, but he had that unfortunate blooper of making an incisive run from DH and throwing the ball to no-one, then promptly did exactly the same next game. Seems it was all too bizarre for BA.
            And Big Derek, totally agree with the thoughts on the exiting players, I rated Papali’i but he had a few things to work on as you mention, including his inability to deliver and shape a pass to his right.

          7. John Eel

            Not being able to pass left to right was a real issue given he was on the right edge.

            It cost us a number of tries last season. I recall Simonson missing out in a game right on halftime?

          8. BDon

            He will now bustle into space out wide, pass to his right and beat us on the bell v Tigers 2023.

          9. Anonymous

            Hands and Yates are not top 30.
            We have Rein as the only accomplished hooker.
            Then we have JA or maybe Asi who has never played hooker.
            Hodgson unlikely to play 80 every week so who is going to give us a solid 20mins or so at hooker?

          10. Milo

            I think you need to give the top two a run and see how they go as they are the future and in all respect JA and ASI are not regular hookers.

  15. ashgaji

    I am a fan of your preseason reports. You always provide insight into the upcoming talent at Parramatta. Your weekly reports are a godsend I wish to thank you for all your hard work in bringing us these reports.

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