As the Newcastle Knights resume after a brief Christmas break, the return to training signals one of the first chances for coach Nathan Brown to assemble a fully fit team.
The likes of new recruit Trent Hodkinson (wrist), as well as Jack Stockwell (calf) and Sione Mata’utia (calf), who have been restricted by injury during the first stint of pre-season, move closer to full training.
Much to the delight of Brown, who says the next phase of pre-season training will centre on teamwork and building structure within the playing group.
The players were welcomed back on Monday morning with a gym session at Wests Mayfield before fitness testing in the afternoon, held indoors at Newcastle Bastketball Centre due to Newcastle’s inclement weather.
“Most players look after themselves pretty well these days and have a fair responsibility. I think the days are gone where they don’t look after themselves,” Brown said in his assessment of the group’s condition.
“Training wise we will be going over a fair bit of stuff that we’ve already done.
“We have a few guys who are in and out of rehab who will hopefully be fully fit to train now.
“Training has been positional and individual based and a fair bit more defensive based, so we’ll look to continue down that path a little bit.
“At some stage we’ll start doing a bit of teamwork as well.”
Stockwell and Sione Mata’utia have made improvement over the break while Hodkinson will receive another update on his expected return to training from his specialist this week.
“They are hopeful that if they’re not in today or tomorrow they will be by the end of the week so we can knuckle down on some team stuff hopefully,” he added.
With the countdown now at four weeks until the Auckland Nines Tournament heralds the beginning of the 2016 season, Brown says the two day competition forms an important part of the trial schedule that prepares players for Round 1 of the premiership competition.
“The Auckland Nine is an exciting competition and I’m sure they’ll be plenty of players who are looking forward to playing in it and some that probably aren’t,” he said.
Brown’s attention hasn’t yet fallen on picking a squad for 2016’s maiden hit out with his immediate focus on the getting his squad fit and building strong foundations within the team.
“It will be nice to have blokes in key positions, especially when they haven’t played together,” he added.
“We have some good young halves who have been training and it will be nice for them to train with Trent (Hodkinson) with him being an Origin player and playing in a number of grand finals."
Brown has ruled out the representative half from appearing at the Nines tournament, but says his guidance and leadership among the team will nurture developing players.
“He can offer the younger guys some advice, so to get him out on the field will be good. But it’s a serious injury and the last thing you want to do is bring him back too soon so he has a bit of a set back,” he said.
The new coach is confident the Club’s trial schedule gives players adequate time and experience before Round 1 is played against the Gold Coast Titans on March 6.
“We think we’ll get enough football into them. Ideally we’d play maybe more, but it’s a tough competition and a long year,” he said.
“We have a lot of younger kids playing so we don’t want to over-tax them too early.
“We’ll probably be a bit shorter (game time) than some teams but know there are other teams that are doing it a similar format to us.”