Centre Ryan Atkins keeps us up-to-date with how pre-season training is going over in Australia.
Hi Guys, welcome to my 2014 training camp blog. This is my third time to the Land Down Under.
We departed our training ground, Padgate, on Monday morning to embark on our journey to the other side of the world for three weeks of gruelling training. One of the main reasons for travelling to a sunnier climate is that it allows us to do a higher volume of training and rack up many hours practising our skills, while increasing our C.V and strength levels in testing conditions.
There was a sense of excitement and nervousness in the air as we all got on the coach. A number of the current squad were lucky enough to have been on the previous Aussie camp in 2012 so we had an idea of what to expect. For the others, particularly the young guys, it will take them out of their comfort zone as the training gets ramped up as well as having to deal with possible homesickness.
One of our young players' head must have been in the clouds before the plane even took off. Gene Ormsby purchased some expensive brand new headphones, then went on to the next shop to by a bag full of goodies for the trip. However, in his excitement for the trip, and looking forward to tucking into his goodies he forgot his headphones in the shop!
On the first leg, seven hours to Dubai, I was sat next to a lovely couple on their honeymoon - how different things are going to be for each of us upon our arrival.
The second leg, Dubai to Sydney, I was sat next to Richie Myler. In case you didn't know his recent marriage to presenter Helen Skelton was featured in Hello magazine; he just happened to tell me this probably every five minutes on a 14 hour flight. Do you know Richie was in Hello magazine?
After our ridiculously long flight it was kind of our coach driver taking us to our hotel in Coogee to get lost. When he pulled out an A-Z with half the pages missing things looked ominous. We finally arrived at our hotel at midnight and a welcoming sight of supper.
My roomie is Rhys Evans; he's in for a tough three weeks as I'm expecting breakfast in bed every morning and a nice hot bath ready for me on my return from training. Only joking!
It was great to finally meet Roy Asotasi. I had been speaking to Roy via social media; he is a really nice bloke, who I think is going to be massive for the club.
The first day was mainly a recovery session. We visted Wylie's Rock Pool and had to do a number of lengths. I'm not the greatest swimmer, in fact I make Eric the Eel look like Ian Thorpe. In the afternoon we did some light skills and a gym session. My weights partners were big Roy and even bigger Anthony England; not sure if Tony is trying to tell me something (I'm too young and good looking to move into the pack just yet! Haha)
Anyway guys, you will be hearing more from me throughout the trip. Coming up we have a joint session with South Sydney Rabbitohs and a pool session in the world famous Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre - Oh no!
We were all sad to hear of the recent passing of Ockher. All players and performance staff send their condolences. He will be greatly missed as he was a real Rugby League character and will be remembered fondly by all who knew him.
An 8am yoga session before breakfast certainly helped to get rid of the stiffness from the flight. We have been doing yoga back in the UK but the views aren't quite the same at Padgate. The yoga set us up for the day and was the first of three sessions we had planned.
Not only are we able to get more quality sessions in but the quality of dietary intake is also enhanced. We have strict nutrition guidelines back in the UK but the vast amount of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables that is readily available for breakfast here is unbelievable. Nearly every option is rich in nutrients and lends itself to helping your body recover from the strenuous sessions; so there are not many bacon butties on the menu!
The second session of the day was at Matraville. We did light skills and a gym session. With this only being our second full day and our body clocks not quite adjusted things were still quite low key.....Well that was until we did our first joint NRL training session with the South Sydney Rabbitohs !
That afternoon we went over to Redfern Oval to do the joint session with the Souths. Matt King was there on our arrival to greet us. Kingy is now part of the Souths backroom staff and it was great to catch up with him, although I think a hair cut is long over due.
We did a combined warm up then went into an opposed game for 20 minutes -13 V 13. It's not full contact, more of a controlled grab. This can still be quite physical, and is much quicker than a normal match. It was fantastic to do some team stuff against real quality opposition.
After this we went into a combined block of 20 minute fitness drills. It was one of the toughest sessions I've experienced in ridiculously warm conditions but we more than held our own, this gave us a real boost.
We then went back into an opposed 13 v 13, working under extreme fatigue; working at this intensity, against quality opposition, in this heat is giving the team a great foundation for the upcoming season. At times during the session you felt at death's door physically, but as soon as it was all complete, what a feeling!
To our amusement as we departed Redfern there was the biggest pig in Australia wearing an harness and sporting a nose ring sauntering around the car park!
On Saturday morning we went to the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre for a swimming session. The session was delivered by former Olympic swimmer Hamidreza Mobarrez. As mentioned in my last blog I'm no Ian Thorpe so I was a little apprehensive. However, Hamidreza taught the group some techniques and the next thing we were all gliding through the water (ok it felt like I was gliding).
And away from training...I'd just like to inform you about a club that has emerged during this camp; ‘The Wigan Tanners'. To be a member of this club you have to come from Wigan, sunbathe at any given opportunity, live in your speedos and only listen to Motown music! Fully fledge paid members include: Paul Wood, Brad Dwyer and Matty Russell.
While being away on camp is going to provide great preparation for the upcoming year, you do miss your loved ones back home and it is common to find all the players on Skype or Facetime to their families. It is particularly tough for me as I'm going to miss my daughter Nala's first birthday this Tuesday (14th). I'd like to wish my little princess a big happy first birthday, Daddy loves you!
Coming up in my next blog - sessions with the Bondi Lifesavers and joint training with the AFL team, the Swans.
See you soon!
We had a day off from training and a chance to recharge our batteries. Many of the lads pulled up their white socks, poured on the sun cream and went sight seeing. None more so than Anthony England. He is your stereotypical ‘Brit abroad'; he can often be seen taking snaps in his white socks (pulled up to his shins), sporting brown sandals and a nice T-shirt tan mark.
Again the day started with a yoga session. Chris ‘ tin man' Bridge is improving his flexibility nicely, he can now just about touch the tops of his knees with his legs kept straight!
At our primary training base, Matraville, we worked on a few areas highlighted from the opposed session against Souths. The Souths session was recorded therefore the coaches were able to show footage and highlights of things we did well and things we need to work on. Again the intensity has risen. Everyone is pushing each other to be in the starting squad for the first fixture.
We headed over to Bondi Beach for a training session with the Bondi Lifeguard Team.
We started off with a nice easy warm up......... pushing a beach truck across the sand. Pushing a truck on a road would be extremely difficult but on sand it's a killer! After this easy warm up we did a number of typical routines that the Bondi lifeguards are often seen doing; such as a 50m run into the sea followed by a 50m swim concluded by a 200m run on the beach. This alternative training is very difficult but great for team moral. Many players struggle with the different required skill-set (swimming etc) therefore we dish out lots of encouragement and pull together to get through.
We also did some competitive races against each other. We waded up to our waist in the sea then had to get back to the beach finishing line 30m in land. Through process of elimination the final was between Chris Bridge and yours truly. Chris had the edge coming out of the water but I just went in front with the finishing line in sight. However Bridgey gallantly dived for the finish line but fell just short (5 metres). Seeing Bridgey covered head to toe in sand would be a sight for sore eyes for all on Bondi beach!
For the next bit we had to wrestle a shark...........only joking!
After the hard work the lifeguards let the team use their surfboards. Ben Evans must have wiped out half of the swimmers as he tried to master surfing, while Trent Waterhouse showed everyone he could catch the surf (although I'm sure it was a fluke).
Today we visited the AFL team, the Sydney Swans. We did a session with the Swans in 2012 and have built up a great relationship with both sets of coaches keeping in touch. The Swans are an extremely impressive professional outfit. There are many similarities between the Swans and us; the culture they promote is based on being a good person, being disciplined and only accepting high standards from yourself and your teammates.
The training consisted of fitness and AFL skills. The fitness we had to do was a little different to what we are used too. The AFL players run further distances and have less contact so the fitness drills replicated this. This took us right out of our comfort zone but the lads dug in and everyone gave a good account of themselves. Kevin Penny was immense; he was challenging their lead runner on each run.
The AFL skills we worked on included kicking and catching I paired with Glenn Riley. Let's just say I hope we don't need to rely on Glenn to win us the Grand Final with a drop kick! We progressed to kicking the ball agreater distance, Glenn once again excelled, I think my little girl Nala would have been able to kick the ball further!
At the end one of their coaches delivered a more traditional Rugby League kick catch drill. You had to challenge your partner to rise above him and secure the ball. All the partners took it in turns with the player who secured the ball going through to the next round. Anthony England was the eventual winner; I think he may have his eye on a wing spot.
Like in 2012 I was once again blown away with the Swans experience. I hope to take a lot away from the visit and apply it to my own development.
Whenever I come to Sydney I'm always impressed with the media coverage Rugby League receives. The media presence we have had, particularly when training with Souths and the Swans, has been fantastic. Hopefully we can promote the Wolves brand and raise the profile of Rugby League in the UK.
Goodbye for now!
Coming up: A session with NRL teams Manly, St George and Roosters. With an update on the Wigan tanners club and we may bump in to some old Wolves favourites!!
We went across to train with NRL grand finalists Manly. We travelled to their training base in Narrabeen, arriving at 9am. As soon as we stepped out of the air conditioned mini bus the searing heat hit us; it was going to be a scorcher! (the Wigan Tan Club would be delighted).
It was great to see former Wolf Andrew ‘Joey' Johns meet us as we arrived, Joey is now part of the Manly coaching team.
The lads wasted no time and got straight into preparing for the session with stretches, prehab and personal skills. Joey took the half backs and worked on passing. It's great to see the likes of Gaz O'Brien working with the Aussie International Daly Cherry-Evans; picking up tips from world-class players is going to help their development long after we have departed Australia.
The session started with the teams doing a combined warm up, and then straight into conditioning. Fitness drills are always difficult but doing them in scorching conditions just magnifies the difficulty. After the conditioning we went into an opposed game (13 V 13) against Manly. When we did this against Souths we did ok but we probably weren't as fluent with the ball as we'd like. Today was different, the boys really clicked and we played some really nice stuff. You can see the combinations coming together and some nice skill was on show. Manly are a world-class side with a tough defence but we asked them some questions. All the new players are beginning to come to terms with our defensive system, this too was evident against Manly.
We did further conditioning and opposed; coming up against Manly you cannot afford to switch off for one second, defending under extreme fatigue and boiling weather really tests you physically and mentally. The benefits we are going to be getting from such sessions couldn't prepare us better for the upcoming Super League season.
Another former Wolf Chris Hicks also turned up to see the boys. Hicksy - the self-proclaimed legend of Manly - showed the boys his own piece of memorabilia in the Manly gym. In all their glory Hicksy's weight lifting gloves hang with pride from the wall. You see Chris must be the only professional Rugby League player in the world to have worn weight lifting gloves religiously when working out in the gym. Obviously in a Rugby League macho environment, he would often get the ‘mick' taken out of him. However, I did notice he had lovely soft palms when we shook hands (maybe he had the last laugh). It was goodbye to Manly and a big thanks to all their players and coaches. They were very welcoming.
The day was kicked off with a yoga session. Chris Bridge has again progressed his flexibility; as you may recall I said in an earlier yoga session he could touch the tops of his knees without his legs being bent, well now he can touch the bottom of his knees. Keep up the good work Bridgey. After yoga we did a weights session. We are using the same gym as in 2012. They were disappointed to find that Lee Briers is not on this year's trip, once they heard we were coming they had to ship in extra heavy weights to accommodate his extreme strength (only joking Briersy!).
We had a bit of a break before our afternoon session with St George Illawarra Dragons. We drove down to Wollongong to face Mike Cooper and his new teammates. It was great to catch up with Coops, he's certainly looking in good shape and has definitely caught the sun.
Like at Manly we started off with a joint warm up and conditioning, then opposed. Physicality wise the opposed game was as close to a real match as possible (and at times it was the same as a match). It started off with one of their players barging over the try line after he had been controlled. From the resulting kick-off, Trent Waterhouse put a shot on, and then it was on! At times it nearly spilled over, but again these kinds of tests are going to put us in good stead for the upcoming season. We finished off with more joint conditioning and, as all Rugby League players do at the end, everyone shook hands with a mutual appreciation of respect given.
Again it was great for St George to accommodate us. I hope they got a lot from the session too. On the way back we had a good old sing song to some retro classics. Roy Asotasi thought he'd stepped back in time.
We had the first of the three sessions scheduled in with the Roosters this morning. Doing three sessions with the NRL Grand Final winners is a real privilege and something the boys are looking forward to.
When we arrived, their head coach Trent Robinson gave us a welcoming speech and then we made up four teams; both Roosters and Wolves players mixed. The teams played 9s against each other. There is a NRL 9s competition in February so this gave the Roosters some practice time as well as having a bit of fun. There were a few tired bodies from the St George session the evening before, but as soon as we got warmed up and started running around everyone got a new lease of life.
After the jovial 9s games we proceeded into some goal-line defence 13 against 13. This part of the session became more serious as we defended a series of sets against the NRL champions. This kind of preparation is going to be perfect for the kick-off of Super League. After around 15 minutes of constant defending we flipped it around and we attacked the Roosters goal line for 15 minutes. There wasn't much in the two teams and we are looking forward to meeting up with them again next Tuesday and Friday. With many NRL opposed sessions scheduled in, there has been a continuous high level of intensity at training. Every day you are challenged mentally and physically.
On Saturday afternoon we had some down time and all the team went to Randwick Royal races. Bobby Moore our kit man doesn't mind a bet and was giving us all his expert advice and inside knowledge. All the horses I backed I think came seventh in a six horse race. Thanks Bobby!
Just an update on the Wigan Tan Club; the local supermarket has sold out of carrot oil. Woody has got so dark you can't see his tattoos (which is not a bad thing) and they have had a new member join, Ben Harrison. Although Ben is not from Wigan he showed real commitment by falling asleep in the sun and burning his eye lids. As Matty Russell would say ‘Rookie Mistake Benny laaaaddddddd'
Coming up: Another session with the Roosters and the lads are coaching at a local community team.
I start off on sad note; during this camp our first team coach Willie Poching had to depart for a family bereavement. All our thoughts are with Wille during this difficult time. He will have the support of all the players and coaches upon his return.
Although the weather was slightly overcast it was extremely warm and we soon built up a sweat doing yoga. It is sometimes difficult to get going on Monday mornings but with the great views and the stretching you quickly get back into the swing of things.
After yoga we headed over to Matraville for the first of our two sessions; starting off with skills and weights. We also worked on kick and catch with our kicking coach Colin Stephens. It is important we work on all facets of our game, even if we are not naturally gifted kickers it is important that if called upon you can deliver a good kick (apart from Glenn Riley, please see earlier blog).
My gym partner has been Gene Ormsby, he really has improved his strength and physique this pre-season. If he carries on working hard you never know one day he may be able to take his shirt off in public! In the afternoon we did some position-specific fitness. This is when I love being a back. The forwards were knocking clumps out of each other with a bit of blood being spilled, while we did speed endurance. As they say forwards are piano shifters whilst we, the backs, are the piano players ha ha! Only joking, any good performance is largely down to the big men in the middle.
This was our second session with the Roosters.
In the morning our backs went with their backs while our forwards paired up with their forwards. Tadhg Kennelly, the AFL legend and Rooster kick catch coach, delivered the session. We worked on catching the ball high above our head (AFL style). We then did a little competition; kickers versus catchers. The kickers had to provide ten of their best kicks with the catchers only allowed one life to drop a ball. If the catchers dropped more than one ball they had to buy lunch for the kickers. It got down to the last kick and we, the catchers, were on course to receive the three course lunch. Last up to catch was Chris Riley, with the kicker being Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce. Pearce blasted a spiral bomb that came down from the clouds with snow on it! Chris Riley tracked the ball and was in a great position to snap it up. There was a lot riding on this catch and a lot of noise came from the kickers trying to put Chris off. As it came out the heavens Chris........................................ I'll let you decide (but I'm glad I brought my credit card!)
Word back from the forwards was that they got put through the mill again. They went to the local wrestling gym with the Rooster boys and once again hammered each other. Jeez those boys have it tough. The Roosters defence coach Craig Fitzgibbon took the session and introduced some new techniques I'm really looking forward to seeing the big men implement this when the season kicks off. After lunch we went back to the Roosters HQ to do another combined session. When we turned up we got informed we had an extra player to join in on our team. I doubt you will know him but I believe he has played a bit before, his name was Brad Fittler. Brad is playing for the Roosters in the 9's competition and came to work on his fitness and practice some skills. Let's just say he has still got it. What an experience; training with Brad Fittler and Sonny Bill Williams in the same session is pretty special.
After a few skill drills and fitness work we went in to 13 V 13 against the Roosters. Once again we looked sharp and more than held our own. This kind of experiences is invaluable; I'd also like to say the Roosters (and Fittler) are mega stars in Sydney but you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of blokes who are very much down to earth. That evening we dined with the Roosters squad at their local jaunt Pinocchio's. The food was tremendous; we had massive plates of different sea foods, steaks, chicken and ribs. Bennie Westwood tucked right into the huge size BBQ flavour ribs (which I think they got from a T-rex) after devouring the plate he looked like an extra from a zombie film.
We had a bit of a down day. After yoga we went across to the Roosters feeder club Clovelly Crocodiles and delivered a coaching clinic to the local kids. It's great that we are able to give a bit back. The kids and big kids (us) had a great time with some future Billy Slater's running round. But possibly the highlight of the day was when an eight year old called Alex took Chris Bridge on the outside and left him for dead. After the coaching the Crocodiles kindly put on a BBQ with the world's biggest sausage.
Rich Myler may also have a new vocation; a photographer. He is often seen lumbering around his David Attenborough style camera. I think the lens is big enough to zoom in to get a real close up of the nuts and bolts on the Nassa space station, orbiting the earth.
Coming up: A session with the Bulldogs, our last session with the Roosters and the dreaded Sandhills at Cronulla (Oh No!).
Today we came up against Canterbury Bulldogs and another side that have been impressive in recent seasons making the 2012 NRL Grand Final, with their very own Pomi James Graham.
We arrived at their training base at Belmore; this is a top class training venue. They had some really impressive, expensive equipment including anti gravity treadmill, altitude chamber, speed testing equipment, NFL treadmills and force plates just to name a few. There were some tired bodies as we approached the back end of the week, but we were up against a quality side so we need to fire up.
After a joint warm up - Bulldogs and Wolves mixed - it was game time; 13 v 13 opposed. Bulldogs play some nice stuff with their forwards encouraged to be ball players. We started off a little scratchy but after the first break and a few words from the coaches and senior players we really stepped it up in the second half. We caused them a few problems and once again gained a massive confidence booster that we can mix it with the best. The session was filmed using state of the art cameras at either end of the pitch; they were remote controlled and could zoom into the ruck area. The Bulldogs staff kindly recorded the footage and provided a copy for our coaches.
In between the games we did some MMA conditioning, focusing on wrestling and contact under fatigue. This again is providing a unique experience and a variety to our training to help prepare for the upcoming season. While having a break and getting iced up, team manager Karl Fitzpatrick and Paul Wood gave young fullback Matty Russell some valuable education. Karl explained to Matty that he only dropped one ball in his career but he had no right to catch it but made a valiant effort for it. Woody also explained to Matty that back in the day when he was a pretty-boy second rower he possessed an outstanding kicking game. Paul highlighted to Matty that he has set up a number of tries at the HJ with his slight footwork. Please, if anyone has evidence of this, forward to the club.
Back to a serious note, thanks to Des Hassler and all his players and staff who were very welcoming. Thanks guys.
Today was our final session against the Roosters, coming up against them at their home stadium the Allianz. We did a separate warm up then it was game time. It started off pretty intense; Sonny Bill Williams read a play and caught Myler with a big shot, then James Laithwaite did well to get back to his feet after an almighty shot from Jared Waerea- Hargreaves. But we battled through and put some really nice touches together as well as defending our line with pride. We went against each other for around 50 minutes in what was world-class Rugby League from both sides.
After the session the mutual respect shown was tremendous; every single player from either side embraced each other, this was quite humbling to see. By spending quite a bit of time with the Roosters there seems to have been a relationship and affinity built between the two clubs. We gained a vast amount by training with the Roosters and I hope they also enjoyed having us around. So to SBW and the rest of the Roosters good luck with the upcoming season it was an absolute pleasure!
The dreaded Sandhills at Cronulla. There was an air of anxiety as we took the 45 minute drive over to Cronulla as what can only be described as pure hell. The boys who did it in 2012 knew what lay ahead and this got the new lads all worried. It was like going to the gallows. Basically we have to sprint up a number of giant sand dunes, forwards and backwards for around an hour and a half.
The sandhills are infamous amongst NRL teams with the session being delivered by former Hull FC and Cronulla Sharks player and now personal trainer Ben Sammut. Running on sand is no fun (as mentioned previous at Bondi) but add to that an extremely steep gradient and your legs burn like never before. On one dune we had to run backwards; the noises coming from the group suggested a lot of us were in extreme pain but everyone managed to get through it. Although I thought the defibrillator may have to come into action at some point.
When we did this session in 2012 a picture was taken and we had this printed and hung it in the club's gym facility. It is an impressive picture and it is often commented on. Also it reminds you of what you went through and what the human body is capable of, therefore pushing you on when feeling tired in the gym. The adulation of completing the session is unbelievable there is an immense sense of achievement. Going through this kind of pain is going to be so beneficial when the season starts. Although we where extremely tired on the bus journey back there was excitement and utter relief that we had survived the sandhills.
Sunday was a down day and the players had the day off. Ben Stirling, the head physio, organised for a number of players to go with him on a fishing trip. Ben had great intentions of providing an experience for the lads. The boat was to go into the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an attempt to catch some Marlin. It wasn't a cheap trip costing $300 per person (so I'm surprised Mick Higham signed up to go). The trip should of lasted from 7:30am till 5pm however the trip was that bad the lads where back in the hotel by 1pm and $300 worse off. The stories from the trip were hilarious every single player became violently sick and had to lie on the deck of the boat for the full duration. James Laithwaite claimed it was the worst experience he has ever been through in his whole life, like an hangover but 50 times worse. They begged the organiser to take them back to shore early with some players not even holding a fishing rod. The only thing they caught was extreme sickness and a lighter wallet. As the boat came back to shore they said it was like a scene out of a World War II film carrying wounded sick soldiers back to bay. No doubt the Sydney Marlin got the last laugh that Sunday.
The last day of our Australia camp. With a long flight ahead the training did not let up. We started the morning with another infamous killer of a session, Coogee steps. At 7am we were pounding up the 232 steps in Coogee. These sessions are as much psychological as physical, around half way you think you're at the top but it goes up, up and up. After doing six sets we ambled back to the front of the hotel for a much needed yoga session at 8am. After this we went to our primary training facility and put into practice all our new exciting combinations. I can't wait for the season to start. All the players are looking slick and super fit.
As we made our way back to the hotel and prepared for the departure back to our loved ones we reflected on what has been an almighty three-week pre-season camp.
I don't think the lads could be in better shape physically and mentally after what we have been through. Not only has the training enhanced our development individually and collectively but it has also gave some unbelievable experiences along the way. We are grateful for the club giving us this opportunity and it has no doubt provided the best possible preparation for a Super League season.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog. I can't wait for the season to start; I'm ready, we are all ready!!!!
I look forward to seeing you all at the HJ.