Former Broncos, Cowboys and Wallabies fitness guru, Steve Nance, shares his insights into the changing nature of football fitness in the modern game.
I started in League in 1986-87 with the Ipswich Jets with Tom Raudonikis as the head coach. They were a semi-pro unit and I can tell you a lot has changed since then. We had no gym and, in fact, no strength programme at all.
The conditioning was hard but we could only use body weight exercises as we had no access to a gym. A XXXX Gold was the recovery model.
I started part time with The Broncos in 1990 after having been offered the full time position, but I didn’t want to leave my good job at Ipswich Grammar School.
When I started at The Broncs, over half the squad smoked cigarettes and actually smoked in the training room and the change room at games.
A can of Powers Bitter was the after match nutrition and there was very little accountability in the players’ day to day lives.
I was there 5 years and was involved with the Reserve team success and the two finals in 1992 and 1993. A lot of the old school attitudes were gradually going.
I left in ’94 – ’95 to run the inaugural Cowboys programme and then Wayne Bennett got me back to Brisbane to be in charge of the Broncos.
They had not advanced much from when I left.
One thing though with all of the league teams I have worked with is they have had an exceptional training ethic and The Broncs were arguably the best.
When I returned in 96 Dan Baker came on board as strength coach and immediately introduced accountability in the gym which was lacking. I introduced some ideas like recovery sessions, heart rate telemetry and actually periodised the training model [or had a go at it any way]. I tried to make the players more accountable – which took a while.
In 1997 we won The Super League title both here and versus the English teams and in fact only lost a couple of games all year.
At the end of this I was approached by Rod Macqueen to come on board this exciting new Wallaby programme.
When I started, rugby had been professional for only two years, so there was a massive difference between the two codes physically. Also one must remember also that there was no full time strength and conditioning coach for the team and up until then, they only got together during the week before a Test match.
What I began with was what was successful in league. Hard work with a scientific approach.
Rod’s idea of a Base Camp was the clincher I believe to success. We set up our own gym and gave all the players a bike, helmet and lock.
I organised a sponsorship deal with Polar so that every session was heart rate downloaded, we set up a ballistic measurement device that gave regular measurements of definitive power and gave them set programmes with the aim of winning the Rugby World Cup in 1999.
The actual management group was also outstanding – from manager down to kit man they were arguably the best I have worked with. I had a very good relationship with Dr John Best and Greg Craig that helped tremendously with rehab and injury prevention.
But Rod was the key in getting us all together working on a united front.
The players were also fantastic. They bought into what we were trying to do and improved very quickly and their whole body shape changed dramatically in the first 6 months.
I had photos taken in shorts at the beginning of the S12 season and then 1 month and 6 months after they came into camp – see attached for some examples.
They certainly found the conditioning especially very hard and some failed to complete sessions in the early days. To their credit they stuck to it and made tremendous gains.
By November ’99 we were well coached, defended better (Muggo was brought in) and had a team that wanted to win and win for the right reasons; and for me they were an exceptionally fit outfit that could last the full 80 with some to spare as shown in the semi final versus South Africa.