You gotta love Mondays.
That was the message for Eels tragics with big guns Mitch Moses, RCG and King Gutho returning to work at Kellyville.
Both Mitch and Reg looked in good order as they hit the field, but Gutho still has some rehab in store as he continues his journey from the late season knee injury. The club has reported that the King hopes to start running before Christmas.
There was less conditioning and more skills work during the session, though running mechanics and sprints were featured.
Most supporters already understand that Mitch Moses is fast, very fast. On his first morning back in training, the star half was burning up the turf during the sprints.
Actually, it’s probably inaccurate to describe his running style in such a way. He almost floats just above the grass as he hits top pace.
Ethan Sanders also caught the eye. He is much bigger than the traditional half back size, but he’s not short on speed.
As far as the forwards are concerned, their style may not be as “pretty”, but is there any greater sight than a big man striding out?
To that end, they don’t come much bigger than Wiremu Greig. Woody is one of the most awkward conveyances you could watch, and Trent Elkin probably grimaces as the man mountain’s arms and legs defy anything you’d see in the coaching manual.
However, the rising prop was one of the forward standouts.
The other middles to impress with their pace were Ky Rodwell and Toni Mataele. And it’s fair to describe their form as more conventional than Woody!
Outside of the running mechanics, the rest of the session put the focus on footy.
The forwards began with draw and pass drills and transitioned later into defence line movement and coordination.
Conversely, the backs began with defensive movements and decisions, before working on their play the ball and passing skills.
Simultaneously, the halves were taken out of their group to work with Baz and Jordan Rankin. They honed their skills around the ruck with Baz and Jordan Rankin, including ruck skills and options, passing
The forwards then spent time in passing drills with Baz. grid passing drills with Baz.
To sum up Monday – ball work and defence. I sense that they can look forward to a heavier conditioning load on Wednesday and Friday.
Update On Missing Players
A detailed injury update has been provided by the Eels. The following players are yet to return to training, with the injuries as below:
Junior Paulo – surgery on a toe. Due back in January
Daejarn Asi – surgery on an injured finger tendon. Will be ready to play in the new year. (I’d expect to see him running at training soon.)
Makahesi Makatoa – already reported as being in rehab due to injury. It’s been clarified as a pec injury and he’s not expected to be able to fully train until the new year
Arthur Miller-Stephen – will not be seen in 2024 due to a serious knee injury requiring surgery
NRL and NRLW Draw Reaction
Firstly, the NRLW draw is much fairer to the Eels than previous seasons.
In the three seasons that the Eels have competed in the NRLW, the Eels have rarely been allocated home matches. In 2023, there were only two matches played at CommBank Stadium out of a nine round season.
Next season they start off with a tough away schedule, but then have four of the last five games at home. This includes two games at CommBank Stadium (including one stand alone fixture) and two clashes at Eric Tweedale Stadium at Granville (their training venue).
There’s much to sort out in terms of the coaching and roster at the Eels after a wooden spoon season. However, if the team can jag a couple of early results, the run home looks favourable.
I’m not sure when the Eels will ever get a favourable NRL draw. If only they were as blessed as the Sharks who year upon year get kissed you know where when the season is announced.
There is some good news.
Starting the season with the Bulldogs, Panthers, Manly and Tigers isn’t the worst outcome. Having all bar that Panthers game at CommBank should be an advantage.
Likewise, finishing the regular rounds with the Dragons and the Tigers is also favourable.
Obviously, it’s what’s in-between that the Eels must rise to overcome.
There’s the now usual collection of playing teams that are coming fresh off a bye. However when it comes to Parramatta’s byes we can’t complain as much about next year. Unlike 2023, the Eels won’t be required to play in every Origin impacted round. As a reminder, Parra were the only club expected to play without their Origin players in all three of those rounds.
What about five day turn arounds? The Eels have the equal most with three, but the devil is in the detail and he’s wearing only the lightest shade of red.
Between Round 13 and Round 18, the Eels play the Sharks, Bulldogs, Roosters, Knights and Rabbitohs. The five day turn arounds are before the Sharks, Roosters and Rabbitohs fixtures.
Compensating for that run of turn arounds is a ten day break between playing the Sharks and the Dogs, and a bye between the Roosters and the Knights, resulting in a 14 day spell.
Truth be known, the players prefer playing to training, so they might just enjoy the five day weeks in which they probably only train once, compared to the longer lead ins.
Finally, when it comes to the strength of the opponent, the Eels sit in the top half dozen clubs for toughest draw.
As usual they play the Panthers twice (hello rivalry beat up), as well as having home and away matches against the Storm, Broncos, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Roosters. That’s six very tough opponents across twelve games.
In fact, when it comes to games against the 2023 top four, the Eels will get seven matches out of a maximum eight!
The only poorly performing opponents that the Eels face twice are the Tigers and Bulldogs.
Pundits will rightly say that they only face four of the 2023 finalists once – the Sharks, Knights, Warriors and Raiders. However, three of those matches are away from home, with only the Sharks fronting up at CommBank Stadium.
We should also note that the Eels will be playing the Dolphins in Darwin. Though it’s not the worst case scenario of the Cowboys or Broncos, it’s obvious that the NRL and broadcast partners will now be selecting Queensland opponents for that round.
As an aside, the Eels had requested the Storm for that game. Though Melbourne are literally stacked with Queenslanders themselves, you couldn’t get an opponent as far away from the tropics as them!
Finally, the days and times for home fixtures are quite reasonable. Nobody likes a Thursday night game, and the Eels get two of those at CommBank. For mine, the trade off is that there are no 6pm Friday fixtures at home. Overall, that’s a plus.
The NRL draw will never be fair. It’s impossible to achieve because clubs don’t get to face every other team twice.
What we do see is similar teams, year on year, getting either the benefit of a kind draw. Likewise, there are others that regularly get the rough end of the pineapple.
All that aside, and playing devils advocate, it has been said to me that the top teams rarely comment on the draw. Yes, there are sides that might qualify for finals footy or earn a higher finish at the end of the regular season due to a favourable draw, but the cream usually rises to the top.
As far as the Eels are concerned, the 2024 draw isn’t ideal, but it’s an improvement on 2023.