In the age of social distancing, it was social media that was helping to keep the talented junior players involved in the Junior Titans System (JTS) on track to achieving their goals of playing in the NRL.
While rugby league went into shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Titans Elite Player Development Manager Jamie McCormack and the JTS coaches had to get creative to ensure the region’s best young players remained engaged with the program.
“We have been very reliant on our players doing the right thing,” McCormack said. “We supply them with gym programs, and we relied on them to be motivated enough to go and do a lot of it themselves during the COVID shutdown.
“They had to train by themselves individually. We tried to keep them motivated by asking them to post their sessions once a week on our JTS Facebook page, and we could manage their technique with (Titans Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach) Joel Grech.
“I have been really rapt with the way they responded. To be honest, I was pretty inspired by some of the things that were being posted.
“Some of the kids had full gyms in their houses – but other kids were using bricks and anything else that they had available.
“It was the full spectrum of what the players had, but they made the most of what they had available. But they stayed in control of their strength and conditioning as much as they could.
“If they are self-motivated, then it is a lot easier on us to coach them.”
On Monday evening, Titans administrative staff attended a JTS training session at Robina to watch the players go through their paces and get an understanding of where the next generation of Titans will come from.
But no one was more excited about the training session than the players themselves, who McCormack says were jumping out of their skins to be back on the field after the long coronavirus lay-off.
McCormack said there was no time to waste, with plenty of rustiness needing to be blasted out of systems after the time away.
“Thankfully, local football will kick off again for the them in the next week or two – depending on where they live,” he said.
“They are all genuinely excited to be back in a Titans training shirt, and back into a structured program like this.
“Right now we have to make sure they are not falling too far behind from having all that time off.
“Our program is built on fundamentals, the simple things on the game and making sure that everyone is able to do them really well.
“Simple things like catch-pass, where we thought they were excelling, all of a sudden we have had to go back and – not necessarily start again – but go back and refresh and blow away a bit of rust.”
The next challenge is trying to navigate the ongoing social distancing protocols to get the JTS players back into a competitive environment and wearing the Titans colours in practice matches and trials.
“Our 15-year-olds will play their annual game against the Wests Tigers at the end of September – for the Anthony Laffranchi Cup, but we are just in the process now of rescheduling some games for our under-16 and under-18 group,” McCormack said.
“With COVID, a lot of things have been put out of whack. The Warriors were meant to come over in May to play against our under-16s as a curtain-raiser, but obviously that didn’t go ahead.
“Our under-18s were supposed to go up to North Queensland and play at the new stadium against the Cowboys under-18s, but obviously that didn’t go ahead.
“We are searching the globe for opportunities at the moment, but we would like to think there will be at least one opportunity to play in the Titans strip at the end of September or start of October.”