It’s 8am on a humid, overcast morning at Newcastle’s King Edward Park and the Newcastle Knights have swapped their training fields for a gruelling hill and the soft sand of the beach.
This training session is just one of the punishing stages of the Knights’ pre-season that aims to push players to their limit.
For Performance Director Colin Sanctuary, the hill and beach session is a mainstay in the pre-season program and is all about exposing the players to a different environment.
“They’ve done some hills in years gone by and it’s a different environment and change of stimulus to see how they cope,” Sanctuary said.
Split into groups of three, the players relentlessly climbed the steep incline of King Edward’s grassy park pushing themselves and each other to reach the top.
The session then mixed in some equally exhausting ball drills and shorter sprints for good measure.
The following beach location offered false reprieve with a series of fast-paced agility drills on the sand before the Knights cooled off in the surf of Newcastle’s Main Beach.
Although the hill session is a familiar foe for many of the side’s veteran’s, it’s the achievement of the squad’s younger players that Sanctuary commended.
“They are a good crew and it’s nice to see some of the younger guys, that I suppose I’ve had some influence with before, coming through and seeing them push on,” he added.
“Then you see the likes of Kurt Gidley, Jarrod Mullen and James McManus and the way those guys work and it’s really quiet impressive.”
Sanctuary sat in on the players’ end of season reviews and helped set personal fitness targets for the pre-season.
“Certain players came back not quite where we thought, so you’re not doing it as a punishment. You just want to get the best out of the player,” he said.
“We’ve probably done a little bit more with work off the turn and work off the floor and short little repeat efforts earlier on in our Thursdays sessions, but the Tuesday’s are distance work that you can’t get away from.
“The ball has been a bit more prominent.”
The notorious hill session is another obstacle hurdled for 18-year-old Danny Levi who has stepped up to experience pre-season training with the NRL squad.
“It was a pretty tough session, especially the hills,” he said.
“The first couple of sprints weren’t too bad, but as the fatigue set in, it made it a lot harder.
“I’m happy everyone got through it.
“It’s just about trying to get through it. You don’t want to give away any penalties, you want to make sure you make your times, and that’s all I was really focusing on.”
The emerging Knight says the camaraderie and support of his teammates assisted him through the challenge.
“Me, (Adam) Clydsdale and Carlos (Tuimavave) were just pushing each other through it and try to keep the same pace as each other.
“Carlos started to break away a little bit so me and Clydsdy just tried to make sure we were getting through it.
“It’s just another obstacle out of the way, but I’m sure there’s harder things to come.”
Tuesday’s session was an intense welcome back for forward Kade Snowden who returned to training after an extended break.
The energy of the younger squad members was something that stood out.
“It’s the first session I’ve been back and to see the whole squad. It’s a young squad and they’re pretty enthusiastic,” Snowden said.
“They will try to beat us and that’s what the young fellas do.”