If anything has come out of 2021, it’s how the game has changed, like it or lump it. Adapt or perish.
I don’t care what other clubs do. I’m a Bulldogs man through and through, and the first thing on my wish list for next season is that every player currently signed to the 30-man squad has the ability to play a minimum of 70 minutes without being totally gassed. It’s a big ask, yes, but that should be the aim.
As high performance consultant Steve Hansen said, “Live out the values you set from the top down, not the bottom up”.
Last year showed us that there have to be major changes to the way a club is prepared. I do not think I have ever seen a season with so many injuries – The game is so fast, and there’s a relentless physicality at speed.
So the preseason will not be just about coaches but about the likes Dan Ferris, the head of high performance, and Luke Portese, the strength and conditioning coach, to think about how they go about things in the off-season.
But what is really important to me is to see coaches actually coach.
The 30 players currently signed have an average age of a tad under 24, and that includes some with no NRL games and some with 200. As far as I’m concerned, a team cannot improve unless individuals improve, and that comes down to coaching. Individual coaching one on one, not just plays on a whiteboard.
Last year a lot of people were happy to bag young Kyle Flanagan, who was told to go away and work on his natural game. Instead he should have been coached – the coach should have assessed his strengths and weaknesses and worked with him to give him confidence.
This has to happen with all the young pups on the team for next year.
Pundits are already criticising the fact that we do not have an effective first-class spine, but the raw talent is there; let’s see if the coaches are up to the job.
The kids in the team are young and hungry to learn. Ask them to turn up an extra couple of days a week just for skills training and you will soon sort the wheat from the chaff. They will come gratefully knowing you have confidence enough to give them more of your time and knowledge.
Trent Barrett and David Furner have well over 300 games as coaches between them, and Barrett has over 300 games as a player and is still a relatively young man who can relate to these young guys.
These youngsters at the Dogs are more readily adaptable to the game’s changes. Take this on board and prepare them to be ahead of the rest for next season.
Combine that with Gus Gould wanting to work with the pathways by establishing an ongoing chain of potential first-graders, working with a great coach like Mick Potter at the Mounties, a man with 205 games as a player and 271 games as a coach, there is no reason why the Dogs cannot return to their former glory over the next couple of seasons.
Next season does not start with who we have signed; it will be about how coaches mould them into a cohesive unit using all the tools at their disposal.
Man management, skills management, faith and trust in the youngsters, having the senior players mentor individuals – there is not one young player on our list who does not want to better themselves, so maybe a little less whiteboard and a little more individual skills training. Watch them grow in confidence – that’s what wins you matches.