By Chris Wilson – Canberra Times
IF IT’S deemed good enough for a NSW Blues revival, then the Canberra Raiders hope to kick-start an NRL resurgence in Coffs Harbour too.
Ditching the stereotypical pre-season slog of spartan army camps or running up sand dunes, the Raiders leave Canberra on Sunday for a week-long, rugby league-specific training camp at the Elite Training Centre in Coffs Harbour.
Once dubbed Camp Wallaby, because it was used by the Australian Wallabies before the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the facility has also been booked by NSW coach Laurie Daley to prepare the Blues before the two Origin games in Brisbane this year.
The Blues are seeking to break Queensland’s eight-year stranglehold on Origin, while Canberra is looking to rebuild under new coach Ricky Stuart after a disastrous 2013.
Three weeks out from the club’s opening trial match, against the Melbourne Storm on February 8, Stuart said the camp was ”all about timing”.
”This camp comes at a very important part of the preparation,” Stuart said.
”There’s no secrets, no surprises for the players, it’s all just about getting them ready in regards to our footy strategies, techniques and conditioning.”
The Raiders camp is the initiative of Raiders conditioning coach Nigel Ashley-Jones, who first learnt of the Coffs Harbour facility when working under former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones at British rugby union club Saracens.
NRL clubs, the Wallabies, the Socceroos and AFL clubs have also used the Elite Training Centre.
”The changed philosophy with Ricky has been that this is going to be specifically a football camp,” Ashley-Jones said.
”We’re footballers and we can toughen them up with football. It’ll be far tougher than an army camp.
”We’ll do exactly what we’ve been doing, but this week is 10 per cent up. The NFL teams have been doing these types of pre-season camps for years, English soccer, rugby.”
Despite the trials approaching, Stuart said he was yet to determine how he would use his squad across the three consecutive weeks of pre-season matches.
Stuart confirmed halfback Josh McCrone would be used at hooker in the opening trial against the Storm, but has given little regard for picking a squad for the $2.6 million Auckland Nines tournament the following week.
”He’ll play some part of it at nine,” Stuart said of McCrone’s positional switch.
”I’ll be playing a high number of people in that match.
”[The Nine’s] is not in the front of my mind at the moment, it’s more about getting ready for our first trial in a couple of weeks.’