Premier Rugby: Covid-19 shutdown has readied Norths for what lies ahead

By LIZ MOORE

Norths have made the most of this season’s delays, forming a tighter-knit squad more mentally prepared to take on the adversity of a one-round, high-pressure season.

Coaching the underdogs for a second year, Luke Oxford said there’s been a “massive shift” within his team since he started with them and more so through the Covid-19 delay period.

“Everyone wants to learn and get better. That’s probably the best part of our community,” he said.

“We’ve seen a massive shift.”

The passionate coach said the steep learning curve and little changes he had introduced to his Premier squad have been developing into good habits, open conversations and an embracing adversity on and off the field.

“It’s been good to watch the older blokes in the squad mentoring the younger guys and making sure they have those little conversations, building those friendships, then having a look at how each other does stuff. It’s been great.”

Oxford said the focus has been on community and connection, asking not what the Norths community can do for each player but what players can do for their community.

“These guys are very aspirational,” he added.

“We want to play in the next level, but I said when we come back, a lot of people are going through tough times, and we’re just going to make sure that we as a community serve our community.

“We’re going out and just going to give it our best.

“The boys are broadening their knowledge base by helping one another and looking at different scenarios with different points of view,’ he said.

“They’re giving themselves a good set of strategies when problems occur in a game.”

Oxford did not want to confirm if they’d lost any players through the Covid period, saying the club is working hard behind the scenes to have a number of players return from New Zealand.

“They’ve been doing their own training and they’re hoping to come back once the season kicks off.

“We’ve been catching up with them to make sure they’re okay and they’re ready to go, so touch wood, it’s a positive result.

“We’re working pretty hard in the background but at this stage, there has been no change.”

Oxford said whilst they’ve also been working on skills around the contact area and defence, he’s been largely focussed on mindset and a mental skills programme.

“We’ve been teaching the boys how to mentally prepare, a way to control their emotions.

“When you have a look at young guys now, they can go from 0 to 100 based on one bad action and they can lose focus.

“What I’m trying to teach the boys is it’s just being able to recalibrate their brain and making sure that they’re focussed on their next task.

“At first it was quite difficult, but we’ve been doing a lot of work at training on it, and just making sure that they’re emotionally checked in because then they get a good understanding of what is applied, and they know how to plan.”

Oxford said it’s about keeping cool in pressure moments and overcoming adversity.

“We’re just trying to not be so emotional when adversity hits and just embracing it.

“Welcoming the fear and tackling it head on.”

The Premier coach said the response from the players had been great, they’re looking for more feedback from coaches, and they are benefitting in all areas of their lives.

“It’s funny, the boys have been saying that they go to work and they see how certain people react to certain situations.

“I say to them ‘the more times you practise it in their personal lives, the more confident you’ll be in game time because you’ve gone through the process and you understand what you need to do to get yourself back on the right track both in your professional and your sporting life’.”

Oxford said attack remained a lynchpin of his side.

“We’re a good attacking side,” he said.

“They’re good boys to coach because they love, love, love to attack and they’ll attack from anywhere.”