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Thursday 11th December 2008:
Another hard yet positive day in training camp here in Brisbane with the players again completing three specific sessions throughout the day. The heat and humidity has been tough on the British boys in particular but our training day is planned to be smart regarding hydration and being sun smart.
Again today the thunderstorms at the day's end had everybody in awe as we competed the final team session with the ball. I must say that in the slippery and wet conditions, our ball control was above average and John suggested as much at the session's conclusion. Whilst I mention the heat, it has a huge bearing when looking at power and speed gains. Many elite level athletes will base themselves in similar conditions to the climate in what we are training in here to prepare themselves and to get as much in the way of training gains as possible. When Thibault, John and I were looking at possible warm weather training venues after gaining the licence last season, we came up with a number of options.
Thibault, our strength and conditioning guru, suggested that in order to maximise the players potential and also the training gains a climate like Brisbane was the preferred option and with the backing of Leighton and Dave, I went about planning our base to be here in Australia. So far so good and testing results have indicated we are on the right track. We have noticed since being here for only two weeks that many of the players have dropped some body fat due to the harsh conditions and climate and this has enabled our squad to look and perform very athletically. Peter Lupton (pictured above) in particular has thrived in the training conditions here and his body shape and athleticism has improved over the past few weeks. This preparation will assist us to be as competitive as possible in the ultra tough Super League competition. The players and coaching staff are under no illusions about the challenges and hurdles that will be placed in front of us this season in Super League but via this preparation in the warm climate to maximise our training gains we are giving ourselves a chance to compete at the elite end of the game.
Friday 12th December 2008:
Another tough day at the office for the boys as week two nears conclusion. Many of the players are a little fatigued at the minute as the workload has been constant and the sessions intense. The weather was awesome again for the desired training effect required for speed and power gains. The coaching staff decided to give the forwards this afternoon off to recover and regenerate after Thursday's torrid sessions and the tough workouts in the two morning sessions today. The backs had to complete a specific fitness test this afternoon and a speed session using weighted sleds, so there was no respite for some! The boys recorded times far better then this time twelve months ago, a sign that we have stepped up to the elite end of the game. The competition between Matty Smith and Jace Van Dijk was again fierce as both recorded great efforts in the test.
One player who has shone throughout training thus far is Josh Hannay. He has come back in excellent shape and he has impressed the coaching staff with his attitude to his work so far. The usual suspects in Lennon, Quinn and Duggan are the ultimate professionals and sometimes because they are such good pros when it comes to their individual preparations they slip under the radar a little when giving out raps, but the work ethic they bring rubs off on the other players. The forwards have been undergoing a gruelling program which is designed differently to the backs due to the nature of their roles on the field. The backs did not begrudge the forwards getting some downtime today and they have looked on with respect as the big boys have got stuck into their work the past two weeks. I cant finish today's blog without wishing John Dixon a Happy Birthday. Dicko, best wishes from all the boys.
Sunday 14th December 2008:
On Saturday morning we travelled to another of the Brisbane Broncos feeder clubs, the Burleigh Bears. The change of venue from time to time keeps things fresh and helps to motivate the players as to listen to different voices in different conditions is always a positive.
Burleigh is a beautiful spot on the Gold Coast about 50 minutes away from our training base in Brisbane and right near the beach. They are a very successful Queensland Cup club (similar in standard to National League One) and are the junior club of Mark Dalle Cort and David Tangata-Toa. Former Super League Man of Steel and Castleford legend Adrian Vowles is the CEO at the Bears and again he has a huge interest in the Super League competition and the Crusaders due to his relationship with John Dixon. We spent about 90 minutes playing opposed games against their Queensland Cup squad and finished the final 20 minutes with a semi-contact and continuous rugby where the game was a simulated game of rugby league. These types of sessions have great benefits to our preparations for 2009 and another advantage of taking our camp to Australia then some of the more traditional venues like Portugal or Florida. At lunchtime yesterday we broke camp for the weekend and the squad headed in various directions. About 14 of the players and staff stayed on the Gold Coast for the night and were hosted and shown around by local coastie Mark Dalle Cort. Another group headed by physio Ben Sterling drove to the Sunshine Coast. They took this opportunity to look around somewhere new as we have spent plenty of time each Wednesday at the Gold Coast due to our training session at the beach. Further a-field Ben Flower took the opportunity to visit family in Sydney who have relocated from Wales as did Adam Peek, and I headed to the nation's Capital, Canberra to see my family. Lincoln Withers had his family come up from Canberra to Brisbane for the weekend and a few more guys like Tony Duggan stayed in Brisbane and had some time to themselves. So a much needed night off was had by all. It is now 8pm on Sunday evening and we are all back in camp in Brisbane after a nice 24 hour break. We have one more week in camp and are looking to make the most of the ideal training conditions out here in Australia with training commencing again at 6.45am tomorrow morning. We are testing the players once again tomorrow afternoon with Broncos nutritionist Holly Frail returning to test skin folds (body fat) and monitor the players progress and compare results to the opening day of the camp. We expect to see improvements from the initial skin folds and this is a simple way to monitor if nutrition and training programs are on the right track.
Monday 15th December 2008:
After a relaxing day and half break from camp over the weekend, training resumed this morning and it was the start of another tough three session day.
A typical Monday follows a pattern and today was no different - the backs started with skill acquisition this morning at 6.45am followed by the forwards. After breakfast the backs started prehab and gym at Griffith University.
Prehab is a vital part of the players preparation and assists in the prevention of injury. This 15 minute session is led by our physio Ben Sterling and following this Thibault gets to have the guys start strength work in the gym. At the same time the forwards are in a team meeting with John and the other coaching staff going over some specific team plays. Mondays and Thursdays in the gym are upper body strength sessions and the session in the gym lasts about an hour and a half. It is a tough session and the goal at present is to put some size on the players. This is called hypertrophy training. After the backs finished they swap with the forwards and go into the team meeting and the forwards started their gym routine. Following the gym workouts, some players are designated to complete extras for various reasons and this takes place on the rowing machines, which is very tough. Lunch follows and again the food has been first class. Following lunch we have a four hour break to keep out of the harsh heat of the middle of the day. At 4pm the forwards start specific conditioning and following this the backs join them for a team session under the direction of the coaching staff. The team session of an afternoon starts at 5pm and is formed from what was discussed at the morning team meetings and this allows all staff and players to be on the same page in what we want to achieve in different situations. Following the team session at 5.55pm, the backs stay and complete a speed endurance session specific to their needs and aims. This finishes about 6.35pm and for all concerned the end of a long twelve hour day. Both groups of players follow recovery protocols post training and this includes active recovery in the pool and ice baths. A tough end to a tough day! Dinner is served at 7.20pm each night. Tonight prior to dinner the squad were again tested on their skin folds (body fat). The good news is every single player has dropped body fat since the start of pre season training. Some have been big losers and this has been great to see. Some of the guys who came back in great shape find it hard to lose too much more body fat as sometimes this is not ideal for contact sports. David Tangata Toa, Peter Lupton, Matty Smith, Josh Hannay and Mark Bryant were the big improvers or guys who broke personal bests. This shows that our preparation is on the right track. To have every single player improve their score says something about the attitude and application of the squad on camp. The camp shuts down at 10pm each night when the players are required to return to their villas and prepare for the upcoming day. We are not here for a holiday!
Tuesday 16th December 2008:
With only a few days left to go on camp many of the guys are feeling the cumulative effects of intense training. We are tapering training for the next few days starting with a recovery day tomorrow where we again will travel to the beaches of the Gold Coast for a swim to assist in the regeneration for the final three days work. The intensity of training will stay high but the volume and duration will decrease a little in order to get some final gains and for the general well being of the players. Today was another intense power and speed day and young Matty Smith was lucky to survive the day on two occasions! Firstly, in the gym this morning we were doing some power activities which included the use of a bungee chord. Matty's task was to hop out with the chord on his shorts as far as possible and then when the bungee sets in, it has a kick back effect which the player must try to power against. One of the funniest sights of the camp so far was when Matty ended up on his backside after doing a backward mid air somersault (not of his own accord) and to the laughter of the many boys in Crusaders training gear he very carefully picked himself up and dusted himself down and decided that he did not have a career in the circus. The second occasion that Matty Smith was inches away from trouble was in this afternoon's speed session. Thibault had the guys completing some intense plyometric activities where the players had to jump athletic hurdles (think Colin Jackson hurdles). Now Matty was getting tired and he was still competing really hard but a little fatigued after a long day. Matty does not yet have children and lets just put it this way, he was only inches or centimetres away from never being able to as he split the hurdle in half with his body nearly impaling his middle regions. Again to Matty's credit, he got up, smiled and got straight back into the swing of things again not missing a beat. The boys were falling over laughing as the young kid from St Helens lived to fight another day! The camaraderie and support for each other after living in each others pockets for the past few weeks is starting to shine through. The hard work, the intensity and volume of training, the laughs, the togetherness and pride in what the Crusaders are doing and trying to achieve will help us in the long and tough season ahead. It will not be easy, but it is going to be fun.