Premier Rugby: Tik Tok and Zoom shelved, as tighter Wests group turn attention to round one

By Liz Moore

Despite losing several players due to Covid-19 restrictions, new Wests coach Carl Marshall is confident about the season ahead for his tighter Wests squad.

Players who are now unavailable include Scott Mains for work reasons, Inoke Nalaga who returned to Fiji, Eli Moata to New Zealand, and it is unknown whether Joel Atkins will be able to make a return from Canberra.

“We have lost a few guys,” said the former Brothers coach.

“We’re confident. We came back last week and it was pleasing to see pretty good fitness levels. 

“They’d got themselves in pretty good nick and the most pleasing part of it was just to get back together as a group.” 

The squad’s wellbeing and values was something Marshall and his coaching team were very focussed on throughout the unexpected Covid-19 delay to the season.

“Initially we sent out some training programmes with some weights and conditioning, then as the restrictions occurred and gyms went out the window, I guess we realised this is probably going to go on for a fair bit longer.

“So we were probably more concerned with everyone’s wellbeing, and we just put rugby on the backburner a little bit and tried to remain connected as a group.”

A former Wests player and Colts coach, Marshall set multiple challenges for the squad, including trick shots, cooking and TikTok talent shows. 

He said his players showed some real flair with these, including one TikTok video that went viral featuring Richard Blanch at home in his Wests jersey listening to their team ‘Country Roads’ song while engaging the scrum with the washing machine, the TV remote control and the like. 

And some very impressive trick shots from Jacob Carmichael on his farm, kicking the ball over the top of the homestead to land it in a bin, and a pass that landed in the same bin on the back of a moving ute. 

“I was really impressed how creative they were,” Marshall said. 

“We got a month out of it and it served its purpose, I guess. That was in the period where everyone was really isolated so it worked well.”

Marshall also made good use of Zoom video-conferencing calls for both his team’s strength and conditioning sessions that replaced training twice a week and for group check-ins.

“For the check-ins, we would put a coach with six or seven players and then we just rotated around. Just to check in and see how everyone’s going and so forth.”

Then when fresh hope of a restart to the season came, Marshall and his team switched back into “rugby mode” with some game analysis using online resource, Huddle.  

“For one we had the New Zealand-England World Cup semi-final and we asked a group of players to watch as if they were New Zealand and another group to watch as though they were England and then deliver what would be the half-time speech after that. Just trying to re-engage them like that.”

The coaching group found ways to make their play principles more interactive and interesting online and reach more players with them.

“ I think we probably never would have had the time if that wasn’t the case so that was good. We came out of it with something we wouldn’t necessarily normally have done.

“Obviously diversity creates opportunity. Our coaching staff are really eager and keen to learn so we did a fair bit of professional development.”

These included Zoom calls with a couple of international coaches, and one of Marshall’s favourite authors, Damian Hughes, who writes about building team culture through organisational leadership.

“We had a catch up with Damian about what we’ve been doing and he gave us some good ideas as well so that was again an opportunity we never would have had.” 

As to how it’s translated on the field, it’s early days but Marshall is satisfied.

“We’ve been able to engage all the players. We found through the whole period we were able to engage everyone through that whole wider squad so I think we’ve been able to work with them to develop our purpose and the way we want things to run. 

“I think it’s really important. People talk about ‘buy in’ and I think we’ve definitely got that from a training perspective. 

“That’s obviously the culture or the way we want to be going about things, and obviously we think that that will pay dividends when we hit the field for real.”

As for the season start, Marshall believes his team are in good shape.

“We’re confident. It’s similar to when we had a break for Christmas and came back, everyone retained all the information and the processes we’d put in place. 

“Now again I think we’ve had the best part of three months off and the players have really retained the information. They definitely kept abreast of all the communication. 

“We’re building quietly. It’s pretty much another pre-season. It’s another seven weeks till our first competition game so we’ll build back into it.”