'One Zoom a week': How Wayne rebooted Rabbits

‘One Zoom a week’: How Wayne rebooted Rabbits

Author

Dan WalshNRL.com Reporter

Timestamp

Sun 11 Oct 2020, 02:09 PM

Dan Walsh

Wayne Bennett’s 40-plus years of coaching experience was boiled down to one Zoom catch-up a week.

And the Rabbitohs are now red hot and sitting just 80 minutes away from an NRL decider after resting up through the six-week COVID-19 hiatus.

Bennett revealed after Saturday’s semi-final fightback against Parramatta that he had purposely tapered Souths’ training load when the 2020 competition was paused in mid-March.

“When we had the break for COVID there some teams trained really hard and flogged their players and we weren’t in that category,” Bennett said after the 38-24 victory.

Having “lost our mojo” before their 2019 campaign ended with a preliminary final defeat in Canberra, the Rabbitohs took the COVID-19 break and ran with it, rejigging their long-term approach to a season format that at that point was unknown.

Bennett largely left his players to their own devices, a deft touch that suited the Rabbitohs squad down to the ground.

Penrith’s contrasting approach – with their coaching staff checking in often on their young stars – show there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

The Rabbitohs plan on doing exactly that come Saturday’s mouth-watering grand final qualifier, with their steady rise to form producing a 9-2 run since the last week of July in which they’ve averaged 35 points a match.

“When we got sent away at the start [of the COVID-19 break], we had no idea when we were going to come back,” gun hooker Damien Cook recalled.

"And I think at the start they were talking September [for the NRL to resume]. I remember talking as a group ‘no-one do anything for two weeks. It’s off-season, take two weeks, rest up and then we’ll reassess’.

"Wayne figured out technology somehow and we had a Zoom call every week. Just to check in with each other.

"It was only once a week. And then we had our WhatsApp group where you sent in videos if you were training on your own, or training in pairs which were allowed at one point. I think the staff did it right during that period.

"We had Jack [Milligan], our little Irish strength and conditioner, he’d be down at Coogee just training guys in 40-minute sessions one-on-one, he’d go non-stop all day.

“I think he did really well to make sure everyone stayed on top of fitness. Everyone looked after each other during that break, and it was about respecting your teammates, making sure you come back in good shape.”

The Rabbitohs have been in this position – one week shy of a grand final – for the past three seasons, first under Anthony Seibold in 2018 and now Bennett.

Seibold’s disastrous campaign at Brisbane ended up costing him his job, with the ex-Rabbitohs coach admitting more than once he was too relaxed with his young squad during the NRL’s hiatus.

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With far more experience at Redfern and Bennett’s own concession that he peaked his side too early in 2019, the veteran coach’s easing on the throttle mid-season has proven the perfect play.

Especially considering that several Rabbitohs rep players who were running on fumes this time last year are hitting top speed at the right time.

“We’ve been building all year I think,” Cook said.

"We’ve always found this year when we’ve lost games we’ve been our worst enemy … I think we’ve been building by sticking to what we want to do with the process and the game plan that we have.

“We have a certain style we want to play. Now we’re on a nice run and we’ve put ourselves in a good position that we’re just 80 minutes away.”

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