How was your experience at the Melbourne Storm Geelong NRL Summer Camp?
It was a great experience and a real honour to be invited down to Geelong, and I am very thankful to Craig Bellamy and his staff for allowing me to have full access to their camp. Once I was there it was easy to see why the Storm have the highest winning percentage rate in NRL history – they are thorough, professional, well-prepared and are consistent in their standards in all aspects of their football club, from the front office onto the playing field.
We often hear about the “value of the Storm jersey”, what did you take away from the club regarding this?
The pride all of the ex-players had and still have in having worn the Melbourne Storm jersey was mentioned time and time again and genuinely. It means everything to them. I loved the way that the Storm organisation value all players who have played there, whether you are a superstar or someone who had to work their backside off just to play 1 NRL game – you are a Storm player and will be remembered. I want our players to have the same pride in the Bears jersey and to value every game that they play in the Red and Black.
We have two NSW Cup Players attending the January Storm Camp, how are they holding up against the NRL boys?
Both Jake Toby and Tui Katoa slotted straight into the NRL squad from minute one and looked like they had been there for months. Both players have been full-time previously, so they knew what to expect, however I think the contact/tackle session on Day 1 was a good wake-up call as the intensity level was very high. It was great to see Jake Toby running off Cameron Munster, supporting Jarome Hughes and getting tips along the way from QLD Origin coach Billy Slater. It was great to see Jake and Tui soaking everything in.
Local Junior and Bears Harold Matthews player, Ben Stringer, was selected to attend the Storms Pathways Camp. How did he go?
Ben did a great job representing not only himself but the Bears and our whole Junior Rep program. The Storm were very positive about his training, commitment and his performance in their in-house trial game. Ben loved the experience and I think its great that all of our junior rep players can see that there is a genuine pathway to the NRL at the Bears.
What’s the allocation of Storm players to the Bears looking like for 2024?
We had some brief and casual discussions around the allocation of players from the Storm back to the Bears and I am comfortable with how it is looking. We will know more as we get closer to Round 1 and update our members and fans accordingly.
How is the post-Christmas training going with the Cup team?
Things have ramped up since we have returned after Christmas and we are doing a lot of game simulation, 13v13 blocks and have upped the contact levels in our tackling now that we are leading into the trials. There is real competition for positions in this team and that always helps the intensity of training, sometimes too much, but competition is healthy.
Upcoming trials – we have 4 trial games coming up. What’s your plan for these sessions?
Yes, we have four trials and that is probably more than most other clubs, but we will do things our way and we will give everyone a chance to be ready for Round 1. We have a NSW Cup squad that is larger than most clubs because we don’t have our own Jersey Flegg team to call on for players during the season, which means everyone in our squad is in the mix for selection and they all need to be ready to play from the start. In the past, we have gone with two trial games, and it often means that everyone plays, but no-one gets enough minutes when shared between 35 players. In saying that, no one will play in all 4 games this pre-season but when they do play, they can expect a good hit-out that’s more realistic in terms of fatigue and conditioning. We have a really tough schedule with the first 3 away games with lots of travel involved so we need to be as well-prepared for that as we can be.
Who should members and fans keep an eye on this season?
Jake Toby, Tui Katoa and Regan Hughes will all be exciting players to watch in their own ways and on the back of their NRL pre-season training with the Melbourne Storm. Kieran Hayman and Ben Talty have also both had un-interrupted pre-seasons after some injuries late last year and both are looking very sharp. Kurt De Luis is always one of the best trainers we have, is a real leader of the group and I am looking forward to seeing him lead our forward pack again, as he did many times in 2023. Riley Meyn is another one who has settled in well and is forming a nice combination with Ben Stevanovic.