Zoom, FaceTime and Instagram: Young Magpies capitalise on youth to jumpstart Premier Rugby campaign

By Liz Moore

Souths coach Todd Dammers has focused on keeping his players fit and connected throughout the “bizarre” lead-up to the shortened 2020 season.

After running training sessions via video-conferencing tool Zoom twice a week, and keeping in touch with players on FaceTime, Facebook and Instagram Messenger throughout the Covid-19 restrictions, Dammers is relieved to be able to have in-person contact with his players again.

“We just tried to work really, really hard as a coaching group to make sure we were keeping in touch with each player as best as we possibly could,” Dammers said.

“Technology’s become quite relevant and it’s been amazing.”

Dammers said the three-times-a-week Zoom training sessions involved players working on individual skills and conditioning in a 5×5-metre area.

“It’s been good to have some human face-to-face contact now, instead of coming up with weird and wacky ways to keep the guys fit and engaged.”

Dammers has been heartened to see his team pick up where they left off as players and staff have started interacting in person for the first time in many weeks. 

“It’s one of those things where you see guys really generally excited to see people.

“I’m getting older and probably a bit more nostalgic but they’re young kids and none of us have gone through this, let alone at that age,” Dammers said of his young Premier rugby side with 12 players under 21 years of age.

Dammers said he’s just happy some footy can be played after a tough start to the year.

“It’s been such a bizarre and tough year for so many people, now we just want to play footy.

“There’s a lot of guys who obviously lost work or have been put on JobKeeper, coaches as well, so for us it’s pretty much just about trying to find out the positives. 

“That’s what sport’s all about.

“It probably gives you a little bit more of a perspective that they’re actually playing a game.

“It does sound like a cliché, but it’s something we’ve tried to drive home.

“For us we’re just about getting everybody back together, going out there and enjoying ourselves and we’ll see what comes of it.”

Dammers is excited for the season ahead, likening it to a one-round schoolboy competition where each game is critical.

“Every game becomes somewhat of a final, in inverted commas.

“So for our young guys, it’s probably good they don’t have to grind as much as when you’re playing 16 games against men.

“We’re just really hoping to compete every game and then we’ll see what happens from there.”

While Dammers has a wealth of coaching experience in Australia and Japan, this is his first season coaching Souths Premier Grade. The 12 youngest players moved up to first grade with Dammers from the Magpies Colts side he coached to victory last year. 

“They’re all turning 20 at some stage this year so we’re going to be quite young, but they won the Colts comp last year, and they’re a really good bunch of young men.

“It’s a double-edged sword. They could come out and be absolutely unbelievable and they could come out and be young as well.

“It’ll be a week-to-week prospect for us, and they’ve got a couple of older heads around them.

Dammers said Souths was looking to the future, whilst giving the current team plenty of opportunity. 

“We’ve decided let’s bring them up and see what they can do. 

“Let’s fast-track their development, so it’s exciting.

“It won’t be easy, but I’ve also seen in a lot of places where if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” he said.

“We’re probably investing in the future, but at the same time they’re ready for their opportunity as well.”

Dammers said Souths is looking to re-establish itself amongst the best competitors in the league.

“We’re looking at how do we become more of a Brothers, more like UQ or GPS, where we’ve got longevity with success.

“It’s probably a three-to-five year plan, but for me, I’m impatient, so it’s a one-year plan.

“Probably in two or three years we’d be hoping to be a team that’s spoken about as a consistent finals contender, and we’re really working hard towards that.”

Despite having lost quite a few players to other teams in the competition prior to this year’s season original start, Dammers said his team has lots of talent within its young ranks. 

“Probably the crowd favourite is always going to be young winger Viliami Lea. 

“He’s exciting, big and fast, 104 kilos of Tongan muscle, and he moves like the wind. 

“He scored 21 tries last season so he’s a genuine guy to watch.

“Then we’ve got guys like Luke Samoa who was the Romanian test match fullback. 

“He’s a Brisbane boy and Lukey’s come home and added a bit of class and poise to our group. 

“Upfront we’ve got a front row that I think are going to do some pretty phenomenal things over the next three years.

“We’ve got some great young talent,” Dammers said.