Training notes and reflection 19 December. On a day where forwards across the country rejoice, myself and a few thousand fans flocked to training on a perfect Melbourne day.

I really enjoyed training today. It was 40 odd blokes busting their guts to get picked for Round 1. Training was intense and physical. Nobody backed away from the contest.

Before I get into the detail: if anyone says to you that Eddie Betts is past it or has lost a yard – direct them to training to see for themselves. He is quick, fit and engaged. His run down tackle from out of nowhere was a highlight. His read of the ball off Cas’s hands stirred up intense emotions within me. The sheer joy at watching someone front and centre reading the ball, then whisking it away a split second after it touched Cas’s hands. If I didn’t know better, I would say Cas was thinking “where the F did that ball go?” This ecstasy was then matched by a sorrow as to what we have missed out on for the past 6 years.

90% of the training time spent today was on skills and decision making under pressure. The drills were similar to previous weeks, only this time with the added layer, the emphasis on beating your man. I would think everyone would walk away from training today with the same thought: They didn’t hold back.

The main, repeated drills of today were 3 groups, each with two teams. Two smaller circles for 2 groups to focus on hand skills, one larger circle for foot skills. The idea was simple. The team with the ball had to figure out how to get the ball down to their end. The other team had to stop them. Pretty much match pressure. The coaches would feed the ball into different parts of the circle to change up the situation.

Early on, this then broke out to forward 30 drills leading out from the goal square. The coaches would kick to a one on one to the advantage of one of the players. This player then had to mark/retrieve the ball, dish it back to the coach, then run back to the goal square. The defender had to use any legal means to stop him getting the ball, but also bodying and “scragging” the other player to keep him out of the goal square on the return. Many times I heard Teague yelling “hit him!” This drill brought out the competitive streak in everyone and it got quite willing.

The players then returned to the skills session after some lap running. A very short match sim was played, before back to skill work.

Cas was playing forward in the match sim and clunked most of what came his way. Doing what he does best. He was a forward stand out. Interesting to note that he spent a lot of time with the midfield group doing the hand skills session.

Gibbo did a lot of gut running to receive the ball over the top and run into open goal. I wonder if he is shifting more forward.

With the skill and pressure work, you could see the cream starting to rise. SPS was a standout – particularly his evasive skills close in to bring the ball to the outside. Or push it forward himself. Very impressive. His one on one work against Pols and then Cuners was frightening.

Jack Martin is a lot better over head than I originally thought and his soft hands when marking, balance when landing and delivering are elite.

JSOS. I can’t leave him out of my best 22 anymore. No idea who I’ll bring out, but his work rate, ferocity, smarts, ability overhead and on the ground – he was a stand out today. BSOS is really starting to look the goods too. He is taller, fitter, bigger and his natural ability with the football is coming through. He was taking on “Huge” and doing very well.

Stocker was again working very closely with Cripps. And Cripps did not hold back on him. Hard to judge Stocker against one of the best in the competition.

Kennedy, Owies and Macreadie were doing laps. The juniors didn’t do a full session.

Willo is moving exceptionally well and was another stand out. I haven’t seen him move with this much fluidity and confidence since his debut year. There was one bit of play on a forward flank where he was chasing down a leading opponent with lightning speed, to then read the switch of play from the opposition ball carrier, change direction to another opponent and mark the ball in front of his face. It was gold.

Finally our co captain Doc looks fit, fast and as elite as ever by foot and with decision making.

JR