Trial games a necessary evil for players, coaches Phil Gould | February 24, 2008 http://www.leaguehq.com.au/news/news/trial...ge#contentSwap1 Trial time is a tough period for coaches. For all 16 NRL teams, the next few weeks represent the most important and most nervous part of their pre-season preparations for 2008. Trial games are a necessary evil for players and coaches. You know you need them, but in the back of your mind you also know there is very little positive to be gained from them. Your players risk injury and suspension in games of no importance. If you win you get nothing to show for it. If you lose or play poorly, the confidence of young players can take a hit or the whole organisation can start to question whether or not their off-season program has covered all necessary bases. Some coaches refuse to play their best players, stating they are saving them from risk of injury. Some coaches, I feel, just don't want to put their full-strength team out there and see it get beaten - they like to think they have something in reserve. I used to like the pre-season knockout competitions. It gave you more of a serious assignment, a reward if you won and, to my mind, a better preparation for the season. As a player, I think you go through stages in your approach to these games. When you were young it was just great to get a shot in first grade and show what you could do. When you were more established you always saw them as a no-pressure opportunity to try new things you practised at training and to build combinations with new teammates. As you get to the back end of your career, you can take them or leave them. If you had to play you played within yourself. If you didn't have to play, you didn't. From a coach's perspective, I used to break the calendar year up into four distinct stages. The first stage was post-season. Post-season begins the day of your last game in the preceding season and lasts about six weeks. In this period you assess the season just gone, explore changes that need to be made and prepare the program for the next 12 months. This involves organising training and medical staff, venues, gear, equipment, relocation of new players to your club etc. You conduct medicals on all contracted players of all ages to ensure any physiotherapy or surgery that needs to be done is begun immediately so you have your players fit and training as soon as possible. From there you plan your drills, skills, strength and conditioning program for the off-season period, taking into account all individuals are different as all, at some stage, require personalised programs. The second stage was the off-season, from the first week in November until after the Christmas break. In this period, I like to work on the S's - strength, size, speed and skill. Rugby league is not a game of endurance - it is a game of speed endurance. You have to be fast and skilful for long periods and training methods over time have adjusted accordingly to meet these needs. During this period, I liked the whole club to train together from scholarship players to the junior representative teams, right through to our senior players. This helped with giving your whole club a common knowledge and also in building relationships and bonds between the youngsters and the established stars. After the Christmas break we entered the pre-season stage. During this period, defence techniques and patterns became a priority and you introduced more physical contact to your training. You started to finetune the patterns and plays in your attack. At the end of your pre-season, your whole program was put under the microscope in the pre-season trials. These preparation matches confirmed that everything was in place for the start of the competition. I liked my teams to trial well and I liked them to win. I gained no pleasure at all from losing and I didn't want my players to get used to explaining away losses as though they didn't matter, either. The fourth stage of the season was, of course, the competition phase. This is the 30-week test of your teamwork, togetherness, toughness, talent and tenacity. I used to break the competition up into four phases, too, but perhaps we can talk about this more at another time. Basically though, as all the clubs face the back end of this pre-season period, everyone holds their breath and prays for no bad luck so they arrive at round one of the premiership fit, healthy and confident. Good luck to them all. Rooster hit with ban but bush boys will pay the price The NRL's decision to charge and suspend Roosters prop Frank-Paul Nuuausala for contrary conduct following a fight in a trial game at Port Macquarie last weekend has effectively ended any chance of country teams hosting NRL sides for pre-season matches in the future. That is my personal view, and I do not speak for the Roosters on this matter. Teams do their best to support country towns wherever possible and, in keeping with that attitude, the Roosters agreed to play three country teams in one evening as a great promotion and fundraising initiative for their local league. The reward? Having to face a couple of young smart-arses only intent on cheap shots and inciting a brawl to give themselves something to brag about to their mates in the local pub. It only takes a couple of idiots to spoil it for everyone. Roosters players contend they ignored a lot of niggle and provocation against the Kempsey-based Dunghutti Broncos before Nuuausala finally took exception to a blatant cheap shot on one of his teammates. By suspending Nuuausala, the NRL is now effectively giving a free rein to these unprofessional amateur players to punch whoever they like at any time because they now know the professional NRL player is not allowed to fight back. Having had this restriction reconfirmed by the NRL, I suggest coaches will no longer bother subjecting their players to these situations. I want to reiterate that this is my opinion and not that of the Roosters, but I think the NRL could have handled this matter better. And I also hope Country Rugby League takes stern action against the players responsible for this disgrace. I always preferred to play trials against teams with coaches who I knew enforced a strong code of discipline among their troops. For example, when you played trials against teams coached by Wayne Bennett, Brian Smith, Tim Sheens or John Lang, you got a good, hard match and you never needed to worry about fights or illegal tactics. While I understand Nuuausala's actions in support of a teammate, this talented young player will learn the tough lesson that being a professional footballer carries with it the responsibility of controlling your emotions, even under the most extreme provocation. This kid has a big future and I assure you no one at the Roosters thinks any less of him because of this suspension. In the end, though, Nuuausala has to sit out a week and miss an opportunity to play in an important trial game - and country rugby league clubs probably loses all chance of seeing NRL teams play their local boys in trial games ever again. Everyone loses.