A wise man said to me, “what most people call the preseason, I call the audition”.
If ever that applies to a season then it’s this year for the Eels, especially when it comes to filling the holes in the pack and bench after last year’s departures.
By mid January in any year I feel confident that I can pick the Eels top 17 for Round 1. This is based on my observations of team selections in opposed sessions.
At this point the “auditions” have typically wrapped up and there is a consistency in who BA plays together, with maybe one spot in doubt and up for grabs in the trials.
This season has been somewhat harder to predict. Every time I think it’s clear, the next session produces a new contender.
At the start of the preseason, backline, pack and bench spots were there for the taking, and now, at the very least, some bench spots still remain undecided. Interestingly, that opportunity to push for bench selection has resulted from the absence of Parra’s starting props for most of the preseason.
This week marked the first appearance of Junior and Reg at preseason training. Prior to that it was a rotating cast of middle forwards being given their auditions.
Wiremu Greig, Ofahiki Ogden, Ky Rodwell, Jack Murchie and Makahesi Makatoa have been sharing time with top 17 certainties in Hopgood and Matterson.
Others who could play a middle part such as Momoisea or Cartwright have found themselves pushing for a role on an edge.
Locking in Hopgood (pun intended) at 13, then Junior, Reg, Hodgo, Lane and Doorey as the others in the starting pack, along with Matto as a bench middle, the rest of the interchange battle becomes interesting. And if Matto misses those first three rounds, there’s even more at stake.
In my opinion there are spots that still can be won at training and in the trials. The opposed sessions therefore take on even greater importance this preseason, and there aren’t many left. The battle is heating up.
There was a change up to training this week, which resulted in my decision to make it a single report overview. I’m certainly not any clearer on selections after the last seven days.
Monday – Members Open Training Session
A mix of conditioning, skills work, and light opposed was provided for the fans who fronted in quite large numbers. People travelled from far and wide for this event and the cheers for tries scored provided a fun atmosphere for training.
From my perspective, there wasn’t much for me to learn. Therefore, there’s little to report.
The squad was sharp with their ball work, and in the light opposed hit out the NRL team put on an entertaining show, scoring numerous tries with Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson looking particularly good.
Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard made their first appearance at Kellyville and Junior looks like he’s been adhering to whatever program had been set for him. Reg returned in typical fashion, and as per usual will hit the required markers in no time.
Look out, here comes Ky Rodwell. More on that shortly.
The footy came very late in the morning, with most of the session being dedicated to conditioning and skills. This time it was backs and edges working in one group whilst all of the middles worked in the other.
Defence was a priority as was passing, ruck combinations and footwork. Those dreaded Malcolms found their way into the drills, adding a tougher edge to the conditioning work.
In the contact opposed component of the morning, Rodwell was very effective. I had overlooked his claims for an NRL spot in the lead up to this week, and yet here he was in the thick of the action for the Blue team. He was ably supported by Jack Murchie who continues to impress with his powerful carries.
Junior and Reg seem to have familiarised themselves with the new faces quite quickly. Considering the number of those new faces, there is a great cohesion within the pack, and for that I think we should praise Josh Hodgson.
Even at training, our new dummy half commands attention. At times I found myself watching what he was doing rather than the whole picture of shapes, lines and dummy runs. If I was defender, and especially a fullback, I couldn’t pick where he was going to send the attack.
Hodgo’s pass to create a try for Momoisea on the left edge was a thing of beauty. It was a simple pass to a power runner, but the way he isolated the defender was classic Hodgson.
The other player deserving of a mention was Toni Mataele. In an attacking play, the rising young back rower broke through the NRL defence line, something of a rarity this preseason. His development contract precludes early season NRL selection but keep an eye on his progress.
I was unable to attend Friday’s training so my thanks are extended to Parrathruandthru for these notes.
Unlike the big contact of the previous Friday, BA wrapped up this week with a session which was big on conditioning but light on physicality.
A number of players were absent, so perhaps it was a matter of workload management for certain individuals. Let’s call that the art of the preseason, knowing when and who to rest or push at different points of the summer.
Throughout the morning the players alternated between M runs and games of touch footy. The action was fast but the only genuine physicality came towards the latter part of the session when the focus shifted to defensive technique.
No opposed contact work meant no real auditions and ultimately no further clues to the coaches’ thinking.
Just 8 or 9 field sessions are available for the players to push their claims before the first trial. If the Eels travel their usual path, we’ll see some NRL stars in their first trial against Penrith on February 11, and an NRL dress rehearsal in the second trial against the Knights on February 17.
I’ll go out on a limb before the trials and post my round one team list prediction.
Stand by for my notes on Parra’s final trials in the Junior Reps. The Eels took on the Panthers this weekend at Windsor. It’s been a busy week but I’ll be aiming to finish my report as soon as possible.