It's been a busy first few days on the Academy tour of Australia as our young Saints have seen the sights of Sydney, trained in Paramatta, met our new Head Coach Kristian Woolf and trained with the Tonga squad!
Here is the story of the first few days of the tour ahead of Saturday’s tour opener against North Sydney (12noon local time) at TG Milner Field…..
And we’re off …..Hot off the back of the first team’s fantastic Grand Final win and celebrations, it was an early morning start for the Academy boys as the 2019 Australian adventure began. The Super League trophy was on hand as the families got their photos and said their farewells before we set off on our way. Despite the regular warnings and gentle pointers there were a couple of minor hiccups through the morning from a phone left on the bus, a jacket and passport left in security and one of the boys, fresh from playing with his BMX, setting alarms off by having an Allen key in his bag!
The flight to Singapore and then on to Sydney was relatively pain free with a mixture of playing games, sleeping and watching movies helping pass the time. There were big smiles on one or two faces when they found out that they could watch Toy Story – bless! As ever, the lack of common sense on display at times was amazing with the highlight of the journey going to the panicked Kallem Rodgers in Singapore airport who thought he was in trouble after being convinced that chewing gum was an “arrestable offence”!
The ever reliable Dave Woods was at the airport to meet us and take us over to our accommodation at the Cables Wake Park in Penrith where we hit the sack in readiness for the adventures ahead!
Our Saints Academy 2019 touring squad headed for Australia this morning ahead of a four match tour which starts on Saturday 19 October! 🙌
Good luck lads! 🏆
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) October 14, 2019
With the jet lag taking its toll, everyone was up bright and early and ready for the first training session of the tour. We headed over to the Pepper Stadium, home of the NRL’s Penrith Panthers, for a light session on the training pitch.
Shortly after lunch we jumped on to the bus for the ride into the city centre. This was a struggle in itself, with everyone battling to stay awake, with Shay Martyn failing miserably as he was snoring before we hit the motorway. The drive was a lot easier than in previous years, the new roads and tunnels into the city allowed us to avoid the infamous ‘Paramatta Road’.
The usual walk from the Botanical gardens, around the harbour, past the opera and up to centre point followed, but the panoramic view of the city from above wasn’t a good experience for everyone, non more so than for Taylor Pemberton, whose fear of heights made him uncomfortable to say the least!
Back on the bus for a short journey over to Parramatta for today’s second training session of the day, mini-skills and some attacking set structures as we look to fine tune before the upcoming challenges.
The day ended with a trip to the local ‘Outback’ steakhouse for dinner before we headed home for an early night with the hope of getting over the dreaded jet lag once and for all!
With sleep patterns still affected and everyone up and awake bright and early the lads were up and running at 8.15am with their split mini-skills and body weight circuit sessions in the glorious Sydney sunshine.
An unexpected invite from our new head coach, Kristian Woolf, saw us all head over to the New South Wales Rugby League Centre of Excellence to meet him and his Tonga Rugby League Squad and to watch them in training as they prepare for their upcoming international matches. An opportunity for the lads to rub shoulders with some of the worlds star players such as Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fafita who chatted and offered advice to the boys. Also with the Tongan squad was ex-Saint, 2014 grand final winner Willie Manu.
We then jumped on board the ferry for a cruise down the Parramatta river, around the harbour and under the famous bridge to circular quay (or the point where them boats congregate as it has often been referred to) where it was hop off a big boat and onto a smaller, much faster vessel as we enjoyed one of the best activities – the jet boat around the harbour. This has always been enjoyed by everyone on each and every tour and this occasion wasn’t any different – in fact it was classed as ‘the best ever’ by the last ever present tourist, Derek Traynor. However, it wasn’t the first time young Daniel Moss has experienced such a thrill as he claimed: “I did this when on the river Mersey when I went to Wembley”…..
We then headed back to Penrith for another training session, the focus turning to our defensive structures before showers, food and bed to end a packed and tiring day!
Up bright an early once again as our first game is fast approaching. Out on to the field at 8.30am as we looked to avoid training in the glorious 27 degree sunshine. A short, but intense session, covering individual handling skills and positional specific drills was just what was needed to start the day.
We then headed off to the stunning Manly beach for a little rest and relaxation. The boys had the chance to play in the surf, relax on the beach and take in some of the sights. Manly is a very popular spot for fitness fanatics and when one particular athlete went running past the bus, Joe Woods exclaimed: “Look at the state of him? If anyone ran around Blackbrook dressed like that (topless) they’ll get called a stupid ……..!”
Much to his dismay, Cole Appleby allegedly mislaid his baseball cap on the beach, but for some reason only seemed to be asking bikini clad, pretty, sunbathers for help……..
Next it was back onto the bus for a trip to the St Mary’s Club for our final captains run training session before tomorrow’s opening game against North Sydney Bears (kick off 12noon local time).
On arrival at St Mary’s we bumped into grand final winner and Saints fans favourite Kevin Naiqama and the rest of the Fiji 9’s squad as they where preparing for today’s competition opener. The training session went well, practicing all of our attacking structures before the real business starts tomorrow.
There was a change in the mood over dinner at St Mary’s as focus now is well and truly on our first ever tour fixture against North Sydney Bears!