Monday was light in terms of the conditioning load, so you didn’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to know that both Wednesday and Friday would be far more demanding when it came to fitness work.
Both days are included in this report.
This week was also notable for the returns of Mitch Moses, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Clint Gutherson and Daejarn Asi. For the latter three, that return was of the rehab variety.
Daejarn and Junior were back at Kellyville today. There was no running for Junz following the injury and subsequent operation on his toe. He joined Gutho and Makahesi in off-field rehab. However, a finger injury didn’t prevent Asi from participating in the conditioning work.
Early on, Mitch, Reg, and Daejarn were running some extra metres, I assume to catch up for not being there last week. Mitch looks particularly fit, which was no surprise as he makes it his practice to return to work fitter than the year before.
In these early couple of weeks, it seems like the footballs are in the hands of the players far more often than any previous preseason. Even the warm up process involves footballs. Today, straight after the warm up, draw, pass and score drills kicked things off.
Soon after, the conditioning work began. Once more the young players were prominent in leading their groups. Ethan Sanders, Boods Arthur and Saxon Pryke were consistently up at the front.
The longer the running went, the better Charlie Guymer and Jock Brazel performed. Richard Penisini also impressed. As far as the big men are concerned, Carty, Ofa, and Rodwell looked to be the standouts.
With a serious fitness load completed, the back half of the session returned to the technical and tactical aspects.
There were a couple of plays in different parts of the field that the squad was working on, though it seemed that the emphasis could have been more on the defence than the attack. I base this on some entertaining praise that Sean Russell received for a smart defensive decision.
Finally, the players worked through unopposed sets, marching from deep in their half towards the opposing red zone. This appeared to be familiarising all of them with basic shapes and their roles. The names of shapes could be heard as the team hit certain points on the field.
Much of the feedback that I could hear coming from the coaches was about communication and positioning.
Once more, after the warm ups were completed, the squad moved immediately into working with the football. This time, they rolled through unopposed set starts.
Then, just like Wednesday, it was time for some running – though maybe it was kicked up a notch – or maybe three! Hello M Runs!!!
Once more I have to give a shout out to Ethan Sanders, Saxon Pryke, Matt Arthur, Charlie Guymer and Jock Brazel. These young blokes set high standards in all of the fitness work. This is exactly what I was looking for via the inclusion of pathways players. Their opportunity is being grabbed with both hands and it’s uplifting.
Brendan Hands, Joey Lussick and Ky Rodwell are also deserving of praise. As noted last week, Rodwell has presented as close to the fittest in the group. Meanwhile there is competition in the dummy half position between Hands and Lussick, and both are looking to impress. Furthermore, Matt Arthur is an outstanding dummy half prospect and part of cadre of SG Ball graduates who made their mark in the late finals surge of the 2023 Jersey Flegg team.
Two other points of interest that I noted during the conditioning runs.
Firstly, Mitch Moses is assuming a leadership role in the absence of Gutho. When one set of runs was completed he was barking at the players to get ready for the next.
Secondly, Haze Dunster appears to be running more freely. I was encouraged by this, as well as by his efforts in some of the other work in this session.
After the extensive fitness work was completed, it was time for more football. Similar to the previous Friday, the squad was split into thee groups and rotated through stations that the coaches had set up around the field. There was a touch footy game closest to my vantage point, a hand/eye coordination activity, and an unstructured attack station furthest away.
Most of my observations have to be about the station closest to me as it was impossible to accurately observe the other work that was nearly 120 metres away. Given that the all of the players rotated twice through each station, I did get the opportunity to watch every player.
Just to set a context, the game of touch would last only three to four minutes but it was rapid pace and would involve roughly five players per team, though one team would get an extra player to create an advantage.
It was continuous play, (four “tackles”?) with the scoring team maintaining possession and then launching their next set running in the opposite direction. They ball must be played properly and not just rolled back. There is an expectation that the players will continually present themselves in support during times in possession, and chase hard in defence. It is a game which pushes their fitness.
Assistant coach Steve Murphy was overseeing it, and his animated instructions, demands, praise, and “commentary” make the game even more entertaining to watch. With so much going on, I found myself trying to recall highlights rather than noting them down as they occurred.
This week I wanted to mention some defensive efforts in this game. To me it speaks about attitude as players that break the line in this game can be near impossible to prevent from scoring.
The major efforts included:
* A terrific chase by Charlie Guymer to stop Kelma Tuilagi
* Haze running freely in a big chase on Carty
* A Morgan Harper chase and dive to stop a try
* A Matto chase and dive which went close to stopping a try
The next station rotations were more about skills. Catching technique stations for the back five were closest to my viewing area.
Kicking drills for the halves and dummy halves were in centre field, whilst it appeared to be mobility work for the forwards at the far end of the ground.
These stations wrapped up with the kickers and catchers coming together in their work. The kickers were aiming for a marked zone, whilst the catchers were faced with interference in their attempts to mark the ball.
From recollection, only one ball was dropped. As far as the kicking was concerned, both Ethan Sanders and Matt Arthur were incredibly accurate. I can’t recall any of their kicks that landed outside of the marked zone.
The session concluded with the group donning jerseys for tackling technique. We were able to watch this from close range and hear the impact and some banter. Certain players clearly enjoy this with one particular hit drawing an amusing comment from Reg about its outcome.
Week two done.