Now it gets real. The preseason grind is over. The flag dropped today.
Yes, the footy’s back and not before time for edgy players – as well as coaches and football staff – who have been practically pawing the ground waiting to be let loose.
For the Vodafone Warriors that moment came at Casey Fields in Melbourne when as many as 29 players from the wider squad had some time across the 80 minutes of the club’s impressive trial win against the Storm.
At team base in Redcliffe, this week has been about transitioning from the relentless preseason slog into a schedule more tailored towards the reason why everyone is there. That is, preparing for the Vodafone Warriors’ 28th season in the great competition that is the NRL.
Across 14 weeks since starting out on November 8 last year, the staff and players have collectively worked day after day, hour upon hour on the field, in the gym, in team and individual video sessions, in countless meetings and so much more.
Whether it has been the players, coaches or other football staff, the focus has been on all the detail that shapes a campaign.
Well versed in the ins and outs of managing NRL preseason programmes, standards and expectations is Balin Cupples, back with the Vodafone Warriors as head of performance after previously being with the club from late 2014-2018 followed by three years with the Newcastle Knights.
Reunited with Brown, Cupples is encouraged by the efforts the players have put in to be ready to play football again.
“The 2022 preseason has consisted of building routines and promoting professional habits in order to physically prepare the squad for competition,” he said.
“It has consisted of 14 weeks of very honest feedback, consistent messages and renewed standards for the squad. The group have embraced the uncomfortable moments and pressure to in turn give them confidence physically.”
Since coming into camp on November 8, the players and coaches have been involved in more than 75 field sessions, most of them full team runs but complemented by numerous separate group skill sessions. They’ve been followed by dozens of pool, beach or ice bath recovery sessions. Then throw in countless gym sessions.
“The playing group has moved forward strongly and individuals have accumulated high amounts of work,” said Cupples.
“Work consisted of repeated Saturday mornings, early starts, deliberate long days and a heightened training schedule. Through repetition and overload the group have ‘earnt the right’ and put the time in on and off the field to run fast, play conditioning games, hit each other and spend increased ‘intense minutes’ with coaches.
“Led by senior players, the playing group have continued to learn and make valuable changes in navigating high soreness to repeatedly train with intent and ‘stay on the field’ with coaches. The game continues to change so training intensities need to reflect it.”
A typical day
To gain an understanding of what is entailed in the preseason here’s an example of a typical schedule from one day in December:
6.15am | High performance meeting
6.45am | Medical/doctor
7.00am | All players due in
7.00am | Coaches’ meeting
7.15am | Strapping/monitoring
8.00am | Team meeting
8.40am | Session preparation
9.00am | Field session
11.00am | Offsite recovery
11.30am | Lunch
11.30am | Treatment window
12.00pm | Leadership meeting
12.30pm | Gym (group one)
1.00pm | Catch and pass (group two)
1.30pm | Catch and pass (group one)
1.30pm | Gym (group two)
2.00pm | Catch and pass (group three)
2.30pm | Gym (group three)
Facing Covid’s challenges
The benefits this preseason have been obvious having all the players and staff in the same place (in Redcliffe) from the outset, unlike the 2020-2021 lead-up when one group of players and staff was based in Auckland pre-Christmas while the other was in Kiama before they all joined forces in Tamworth in the New Year.
This preseason hasn’t been without its obstacles, though.
“Despite progress, it has been another preseason of challenges,” said Cupples.
“Covid has impacted the continuity of football and team cohesion. However, the football staff and players accepted it and moved forward. Planning and communication increased and was adapted multiple times as each individual returned.
“The influence on player health and return to train intensities was highly individual with all the staff doing a great job of balancing the ‘keep them training’ mentality and player safety. There were plenty of modified sessions and players in and out of certain session parts but, as per all other clubs, we just got on with it.
“Ultimately the challenge is just about to begin. All clubs are feeling good at this time of year. Plenty tough times are ahead but the players have banked plenty to hard work to assist us as the season approaches. We are all judged on games and we are looking forward to the group competing for starting positions over the next few weeks.”
That started today with a string of encouraging individual displays against the Storm today.