The Newcastle Knights re-introduced the combined training session on Saturday, seeing all three grades on the training pitch together.
Head coach Rick Stone initiated the Club training session that allowed more than 60 players from the Club’s NYC, NSW Cup and NRL squads to collaborate and learn from each other.
NRL Knight James McManus welcomed the interaction with the lower grades and believed the session was a great opportunity for players to get to know to know each other.
“It’s back to the future, we used to do those Club sessions years ago under (Michael) Hages,” McManus said.
“It’s great fun and good to get involved with the younger guys and the NSW Cup guys.
“It starts to create a bit of culture around the Club and certainly makes doing hard work enjoyable when you have everyone in their ripping in and having fun."
Stone was impressed with the level of enthusiasm among the group and enjoyed watching the players build stronger relationships.
“Getting the NRL guys to mix with our lower grades is really important I believe,” Stone said.
“Everyone gets a little bit out of it.”
Assistant coach Craig Sandercock said the session was an important component of the pre-season schedule and aimed to engage and challenge players through a variety of skill and fitness based drills.
“We wanted to achieve two things; one was for the boys to have a bit of fun and the other most importantly was to get a bit of conditioning and skills work into them,” Sandercock said.
“We had a wrestling stage, a skills station and a couple of conditioning games.
“Over all I think the boys enjoyed themselves.”
Players of all grades were mixed into number of training groups seeing some of the Club’s youngest players interacting with their NRL counterparts for the first time.
For NYC's Harry Pondekas, the chance to mix with the NRL was an unforgettable experience.
Pondekas was in the same training group as captain Kurt Gidley and found it valuable to learn from the seasoned leader.
“Having him out there with us and him actually teaching us and relaying what he does in first grade, the experience was unexplainable,” Pondekas said.
“This is the first time at the Club I’ve been able to mingle with the first grade players. It’s a good experience tackling against bigger boys and players that have been there before.
“I can’t wait until next Saturday to do it again, it’s just awesome.”
The training groups also challenged each other with mock games where the competitive sides of players young and old shone through.
NSW Cup assistant coach George Ndaira said the experience was particularly beneficial to players in NSW Cup as it gave them a taste of what it’s like to train full time.
“It was good, I think it was good for a lot of them to get experience training in a full time environment, they don’t always get to do it of they are part time,” Ndaira said.
“A lot of them are working, and they turn up to training afterwards.
“I think they enjoyed it out there."
NSW Cup’s James Elias also believed mixing under 20s, NSW Cup and NRL together allowed players to learn from each other.
“I think the younger boys learn off the older boys and getting the boys through a pretty hard session,” Elias said.
Stone praised McManus, Tariq Sims and a number of the Knights' senior members for stand out displays of leadership for the younger players.
“James did the defensive drill twice and he was leading by example in the way he goes about it, it’s always great,” Stone added.
“Taz (Sims) always plays great and he’s been a great acquisition to the Club.
“Everyone who took on that captaincy role really embraced it."
With pre-season now into its third week, the Knights coaching and conditioning staff will be looking to up the ante and further challenge the squads.
“We are going to build on general intensity and volume the footy component and education and the skills sessions will get a little bit more competitive I’m sure,” Stone said.
“(Performance Director) Col (Sanctuary) and his conditioning staff have been working pretty well there.
“We haven’t sort of broke anyone yet, were just about to up the ante with the volume and intensity.”