Some big questions were asked today after what was easily the most punishing session of the preseason.
And when it was all over, a little practical joke from the staff brought laughter from our corner of the field, and maybe also from the coaches. But as far as the players were concerned, it was probably more a case of sweet relief. More on that later in this report.
Our Eels team is renowned for their second phase play. Over the past two seasons they have led the NRL for offloads. So it should come as no surprise that the draw, pass and score drill at the beginning of the session involved an offload component.
There was plenty to like from the players in terms of skills, but it was the energy of Luca Moretti which caught my attention. He pushed through purposefully in support and charged into gaps. If you had to pick a group of players to run a demo of the drill, he would have been one of the first selected.
From there the team was split into two large groups to work on shapes for both their left and right side attack. This was run as an opposed drill, meaning that it was simultaneously working on the defence.
The two groups of players then came together so that the width of the field could be opened and they repeatedly practised particular plays. With equal emphasis placed on the defence, errors were forced out of the attacking players.
From here it became more interesting.
The squad was split into two teams with reserves, using the full field. This was the closest there’s been to seeing players in preferred positions.
Each team alternated their time in possession, commencing a set from their own quarter, and trying to execute some of the shapes that they had been drilling.
At times, Arthur was not happy with an early play in the set and made them go back to the first tackle.
Individually, there weren’t too many opportunities to individually shine. However, I was impressed with the direct running and lines of Charlie Guymer. I also noted Kelma Tuilagi who showcased some deft ball skills and Carty who sliced through the defence line after running into a hole at pace.
It was then that Trent Elkin took the conditioning to another level.
For the next half hour or so, the running was relentless. The squad was split into three groups, outside backs, middles, halves and edges, and the running was structured differently for each group.
The conditioning standard of the squad as a whole was very good, though there were some players who regularly led their groups.
Middles – J’Maine Hopgood, Saxon Pryke and Ky Rodwell
Edges – Dylan Brown, Bryce Cartwright and Jock Brazel
Backs – Bailey Simonsson, Sean Russell, Richie Penisini, and Blaize Talagi
There was some respite, if you can call it that, when the squad transitioned to completing defence line movement drills. But the break from the relentless running was short lived.
More conditioning runs followed, with each group rotating through a set of defence line Malcolms. Anyone familiar with Malcolms know how sapping they can be.
In Monday’s report I referenced the professionalism of J’Maine Hopgood. During today’s conditioning runs, when the squad was called in for a drink and a short break, Hopgood quickly took himself through an extra run set before grabbing his drink. That’s genuine role model stuff!
Back to the bit of fun had by the staff.
After being called in for a drinks break, the players were told to prepare to go again. My first thought was “they’re still running? I thought they were done!”
As they lined up waiting for the sound of a sharp whistle that signalled the start of the every run, what they heard instead was a full-time whistle blast.
There could not have been a sweeter sound for all of them.