Zack Wilson is an experienced sports writer with over a decade’s worth of professional work behind him. After cutting his teeth at Goal.com, one of the world’s biggest football websites, Wilson moved into the world of rugby league, and helped take Love Rugby League to its position as one of the UK’s premier rugby league websites. Particular highlights of his career include interviewing the dual-code rugby legend Jonathan Davies, and working in the press box the first time that Scotland played Australia, at Hull, and then England, at Coventry, in rugby league internationals.
Betting.co.uk speaks to Former Salford player-turned-coach Lee Addison on Super League’s Return
Super League is coming back! After months of suspension due to the global health emergency, top flight rugby league in the UK will return to action on August 2.
There will be a triple bill of Super League games that day, all live on Sky Sports, with Hull Kingston Rovers and Toronto Wolfpack kicking things off.
St Helens will then take on the Catalans Dragons, before West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos clash.
The following weekend a full round of Super League fixtures will take place and all clubs will play.
Games will take place at neutral venues behind closed doors, in order to meet governmental health regulations.
So we’ll be treated to some top rugby league action at last, something that will delight supporters, even though they’ll be restricted to watching the games on television.
But for the players the hard work starts now. Time is limited after a long lay-off to get in shape both physically and mentally to play the world’s most demanding team sport.
To get into shape for professional rugby league is tough enough, but to do it at the moment when social distancing measures are still in place is even tougher.
To see how it can be done, Betting.co.uk spoke to rugby league coach Lee Addison, a former professional player and coach in the UK who is now based in Australia.
Addison played amateur rugby league for Folly Lane and Eccles in England, and also turned out for Salford, Swinton, Blackpool and Chorley in the lower grades of the pro game. But coaching was where his passion really lay, and he has now been coaching for 22 years.
“I was a player / coach at Salford University for a while then just turned my hand to coaching,” Addison told Betting.co.uk.
“From there I became England Students coach and also came on a GB Students tour of Australia as a coach at 23 years of age.
“I knew after that tour I wanted to coach in Australia and ended up here in 2007. I started as a lower grade coach at Manly Sea Eagles and Penrith Panthers, from there I became assistant coach to Matthew Elliott then Terry Matterson with the USA Tomahawks in the 2011 Qualifiers and 2013 World Cup.
“The old AMNRL disbanded and a few years later I became Head Coach of Poland then. Right now, I’m Head of Performance for Spain which is an exciting new task for me and a new challenge.
“As a full time job in 2010 I started coaching rugby league full time as a teacher at elite schools in Australia. Schoolboy rugby league in Australia is a big deal.
“I started at St Gregorys College, then started a new Academy at Ipswich State High in Qld and now run one in Logan, Mabel Park.
“I have coached several players who are now in NRL and Super League. The highest profile ones include James Tedesco, Adam Elliott, Ronaldo Muitalo, Clinton Gutherson.
“There’s rarely an NRL game goes by now without at least one player I’ve coached playing in it.”
Conditioning is Crucial
Those credentials mean that Addison can provide valuable insight into what it takes to get players ready to play again after a long lay-off.
He identifies the general condition of players as the first priority for coaches, especially if they want to avoid a rash of injuries occurring.
“The reality is, that, unless coaches have been in contact constantly with their players, then some of them will not be in the condition they should be when they return to anything resembling full training,” – Addison.
“I honestly think the first session or two has to reflect that and if coaches go too hard too early, injuries will occur.
“You can see the trends already in the NRL where the game has already resumed. Some squads are a little bit off the pace and others have got injuries galore.
“The difference between the successful and the less successful is bigger than in recent memory and it’s almost like there are two divisions of NRL now.
Lee speaks below on ‘shaping up or shipping out’:
“Many players need constant monitoring, encouraging, mentoring and help and, if they’ve been left to their own devices for an extended period of time, some will have taken shortcuts in terms of diet and other preparation elements.
“Also, it’s hard to replicate skills training to the level needed when in isolation. It’s the biggest challenges some of these coaches and players will have ever faced.
“They need lateral thought and attention to detail like never before. If you think about it, this is probably the biggest break for rugby league since World War Two!”
Rugby league can be described as a contact sport. It is probably more accurate to describe it as a an ‘impact sport’, however.
Readying players for the combat aspects of the sport such as the tackle is very difficult in the time of Covid-19, but Addison insists that coaches and players can adapt.
“It’s very hard to replicate and it depends whether regulations allow tackle shields and the like to be used,” he explained.
“Otherwise, coaches will need to do exercises where the players get up and down off the ground a lot to replicate some of the game movements.
“There are also bodyweight activities that can be done on the field and in the gym to balance and strengthen a player’s core muscles (which I think of as above the knee to below the chest) which are essential for combat aspects and wrestling.
“Believe it or not, even some intense Yoga or something similar could be an option. Once again, coaches have to think on their feet and be creative.
“In my own coaching environment which is full time, we’ve not worried about collision at all until State restrictions allowed us to.
“We did four stations and kept players in smaller groups doing everything else, basically.
“So a four-station session would include 10 to 15 minutes on a core skill such as passing, then the same on a decision making station such as 3v2, a defensive alignment station and a station involving ladders and hurdles.”
Practicing basic skills to the level required is also tricky at the moment, with regulations preventing players from passing the ball to each other.
Find the Positives
Addison insists that coaches and players should be finding alternatives and seeing the opportunities the situation presents rather than the obstacles.
“If you think about it it’s a perfect chance to really upskill players,” he said.
“Coaches should be focussing on what they CAN do rather than stressing about what they can’t do. They should also be using lots of video and classroom sessions to get the players to visualise the tactics they need to learn before they are allowed to put them into practice.
“I break my skills and team coaching down into Core, Unit and Team which I cover in absolutely every session when COVID is not an issue.
So for me, COVID restrictions just take the team aspects out of the equation. Core is any core skill an individual is responsible for such as passing or tackling.
“Unit skills are basically small groups on the field.”
Of course, rugby league is not just a physical game. The psychological aspects of the sport are equally as important, especially in such a testing game that requires such courage and commitment.
“I think all humans on earth currently have a psychological challenge to adjust to this new way of life” – Addison.
“One thing I know about many players is that they get really itchy feet if they aren’t training or running around. If they are stuck in the house or a classroom or office they go stir crazy!
“The thing I always try and impart on my players the importance of ‘mental imagery’ and repeating positive statements constantly.
“Anybody who thinks that is pie in the sky I feel sorry for because I have seen it work countless times in many walks of life, not just rugby league.
“Half the battle is just working out what you are faced with and how best to overcome it and make the best of it, so, like I’ve already said, a player can get very fit and get over any niggling injuries.
“They can also study the game and review their own game in depth like they’ve had little chance to do previously.
“For coaches, this period is or has been a golden opportunity to read up, watch, study – anything that can help them become a better coach. They are ‘off the footy treadmill’ and they can use the opportunity to grow.
“Every coach should consider themselves as ‘Under Construction’ and always approach their practice as such.
“Again, it’s about making the best of the opportunities that present themselves and the scenario we are in. I know every time I spend such time away from the football field I always return a better coach.”
So how can a player best stay in shape? Addison concludes by offering some simple tips to get a player’s fitness up to speed to return to play.
“They’ve got to be as game specific as possible in my opinion,” he explained.
“Most of that is, in layman’s terms, repeatedly sprinting and receiving less rest after each sprint than you would in a normal game in order to ‘overtrain’.
“A field is 100 metres in length so that’s the absolute maximum I ever ask my players to sprint in a repetition, but I’m even more of a fan of shortening that and getting them to do ‘repeat efforts’, for example 40 metres x 6 with appropriately timed rest in between.
“Throw in some getting up and down off the ground and a player can make some real strides in that regard.”
You can find more tips about rugby league training and coach at Lee Addison’s website: rugbyleaguecoach.com.au and also on the Rugby League Coach Youtube page.