OPINION

Re-started NRL competition will be survival of the fittest

The only certainty for the rest of this season is that preparation will be key. Photo: ArliftAtoz2205/Shutterstock.com
The only certainty for the rest of this season is that preparation will be key. Photo: ArliftAtoz2205/Shutterstock.com

IT'S great news that all 16 NRL teams have returned to training for the proposed competition re-start on May 28, and the next few weeks will be crucial not just for the players, but also for their coaches.

This is an unprecedented time and there is no tried-and-tested blueprint for coaches to follow. They're just going to have to adapt and deal with issues on the run.

Their first major dilemma will be casting an eye over players who have been largely left to their own devices over the past six weeks.

I know that these days the players are very professional and will have been given strength and fitness programs to follow while they trained in isolation.

The vast majority of them will have done the right thing.

They'll have racked up some kilometres down at the local park, lifted weights in their garage and watched what they ate.

They won't have wanted to let themselves slide after all the hard slog of the preseason.

But there will also be the occasional player who might not have been so disciplined and found it hard to stay motivated away from the group environment.

Anyone who has taken the easy option could be a liability once the season starts up and I'm sure the coaches will work out pretty quickly who they are.

The mentally strong players will have returned in good nick and they'll be the ones who are most likely to cope with what lies ahead. Because let's face it, nobody actually knows what is in store for everyone over the next six or seven months.

These are uncharted waters for everyone. A whole new ball game.

Professional footballers are creatures of habit and, at this point in time, it's hard to settle into any routine because so much is uncertain.

Other than the fact the NRL hopes to resume on May 28 and there are still 18 rounds to go and then a finals series, the rest is still up in the air.

A competition draw hasn't been finalised yet. Nobody knows if crowds will be allowed to attend games later in the season.

There will be other logistics such as teams flying from interstate, or driving from Newcastle or Canberra to Sydney, on game day, as opposed to travelling the day before like they usually would.

Then there are all the biosecurity protocols.

Will all players take them seriously and adhere to the rules for the whole season, or will some find it all a bit overwhelming and lapse?

Players have to get themselves in the right head space, because this is going to be a tough season. Perhaps the toughest ever.

To start with, they're looking at 18 more regular-season games without a break or a bye. Then the top eight face another three or four weeks of finals.

That's 20-odd consecutive games without a week off. It's not just going to be a case of the mentally toughest team prevailing. It'll be survival of the fittest.

Once again, this is where the coaches and their performance staff will be so important.

They'll need to know when to rest players or they'll be risking burnout.

Sometimes they might have to stand a player down who wants to play, for his own good.

Otherwise players and teams are going to hit the wall, especially those who realise they might not have much chance of reaching the playoffs.

The other obvious unique circumstance will be playing in empty stadiums.

All teams got a taste of it in round two, so they know what to expect now.

But it's a bit different playing in one game with no crowd atmosphere to doing it all season long.

How are they going to cope five or six games into the season, when the novelty has worn off?

Everyone knows that big crowds bring out the best in players.

When fatigue is setting in and a team is doing it tough, a bit of a cheer and energy from the home crowd can lift them.

That's not going to be there for the immediate future, or perhaps even all season.

So players are going to have to draw on their own emotions and tap into the inspiration their teammates provide when they make a strong run or a big tackle.

The other issue that seems to be concerning some coaches is whether they have enough time to prepare their players physically for May 28.

From what I understand, players will be able to resume full-contact training on Monday.

That gives them less than three weeks to work on their tackle technique and wrestle before they're in a full-blooded contest.

It's probably not ideal, but these are the cards they've been dealt.

There is no use complaining about it.

And the way I look at it is that if a player had an injury that kept him out for seven or eight weeks and the next game was a semi-final, he'd put his hand up for selection.

He wouldn't tell the coach: "I need a couple of weeks of contact training just to make sure."

He'd grit his teeth and try to convince the coach he could get through the game, and that's exactly the type of attitude the players need now.

They won't all be 100 per cent ready for the round three resumption, but they're all in the same boat.

And the guys who have trained the hardest and been the most committed during their six weeks in isolation will be the ones best equipped to handle it.

Of course, they'll need help and support from their teammates. This season is going to be about united effort.

All for one, one for all. May the best team win.

This story Re-started NRL competition will be survival of the fittest first appeared on The Canberra Times.