The standard post-season break at the Cronulla Sharks is for six-to-eight weeks. For Michael Ennis, this is just too long for him to resist not training for.
"I really enjoy my training, so I try to force myself to stop exercising for three-four weeks and just totally get away from it to allow the body to fully recover and freshen up. As pre-season approaches, I start to get into a bit of my own training, just to give myself a little base,"; says Michael Ennis of the Cronulla Sharks. When pre-season arrives, Tuesdays and Fridays are big conditioning days for Sharks players with Wednesday being recovery day.
At every NRL club, and in particular the Sharks, there is a mix of young and debutant players, along with more senior and experienced players. "Guys who need top-ups or need to do extra work tend to do that on Saturday mornings. But for us senior guys, the training staff tends to put enough training mileage through us between Monday and Friday, which allows us to have the Saturday and Sunday with our families.";
Communication is key for rugby league players, particularly when it comes to organization on the pitch and set plays. "We look at our playing structures pretty early on in pre-season. The more practice you put in through November and December, the easier January and February can be in terms of really just fine-tuning the detail rather than trying to play catch-up as the season approaches."; Ennis says that "Years and years ago we didn't touch the ball for the first month; you just did conditioning.
"You'd find that, through the back end of December, because no one had touched a football, sessions were quite clunky and messy at times. You spent a lot of January and February trying to get up to speed, whereas nowadays we pretty much get all our playing structures and formats ready through November. Then by mid-December the coaching staff takes a bit of a step back to allow the team to go and execute what we've practised over the past month and build that confidence within each other.";
Ennis further explained "the coaches can't be out there telling us what to do during games, so the players really need to take ownership of the team and the structure. Especially us guys at hooker, in the halves and the fullback; we're the four guys driving the coaching staff's structures out on the field.";
Developing a structure over this off-season is vital. "An example of a structure in modern rugby league might be one where a team is trying to get to a certain position on the field to be able to then put on an attacking play or put on a certain move they think can challenge the defence. You might be looking to use one or two rucks to get to that certain position to load up with your special play. Every side in pretty similar, to be honest. It's just how you execute the plays and how well you can sustain that concentration for 80 minutes.";
Is it okay for coaches to change a structure of a team throughout the season? Ennis said "There are coaches who stick to certain structures for the whole season. With these guys, it's pretty much a case of waiting for the opposition to crack and we'll make our inroads there. Other coaches really like the tactical side of the game; they like to change things regularly and feel that each team they play against defends differently, so they try to bust their weaknesses by changing our attacking structures.";
Ennis has been on both sides of the fence. Currently, he enjoys the structural plan of Sharks coach, Shane Flanagan, who "has a really good set of structures that he likes to stick to throughout the season, but week to week if there are minor changes we need to make, or certain set plays that he likes to add or bring in because of who we're playing against, then he's able to do that.";