TikToks, trick shots and teambuilding have been the order of the last few months for Wests as the squad aimed to stay connected throughout COVID-19 pandemic.
From packing scrums indoors to pinpoint passes through car windows, the Bulldogs squad embraced their creative and competitive sides during lockdown, and new head coach Carl Marshall has been pleased with the results as his team returned to training at Sylvan Road.
“It was a very unique period for everyone, and we certainly tried a few things,” Marshall said.
“I guess we realised that this is going to be a lot longer than we thought, so what we decided to do was not worry too much about the Rugby side of things.
“We felt that if our group could connect through that whole period, when we got through it and came back it would be a really comfortable and be easy in terms of getting along.
“Socially, some people lost their jobs and lost a bit of work, so we really made sure we were there from a personal perspective.”
The squad has come back closer than ever as a result, while the break also provided Marshall and his team the opportunity to finetune his side’s tactical knowledge.
“As we pushed through and everything got a lot better around the country, the news was Rugby was back on, and from that point we switched our focus as coaches, and we all chipped in to create videos and PowerPoints for the players to look at.
“We had regular Zoom meetings with coaches and different groups, just connecting with people, checking how things are going and for me, I felt a lot better after having a conversation with a range of people.
“Looking back, we were pretty successful, and the boys came back really reconnected after that period so that was the main goal.”
The Bulldogs missed the finals in 2019 by the slimmest margins, a late season fadeout proving costly for their premiership aspirations.
The club has strengthened their front row over the off-season, luring former St.George Queensland Reds prop Gavin Luka to the Kennel.
Luka has already made in presence known at Wests, forming a ‘front row club’ and setting the example for the rest of the squad throughout the break.
“We realised the front row was an area we had to make sure we built depth in, there was some good front rowers but we probably didn’t have the depth we needed, so that’s one of the first things we went out to get,” Marshall said.
“We got Gav Luka who has been playing at the Reds, and we’re trying to create an environment where he can go back to where he should be which is professional footy.
“He’s someone that we’re really excited to see playing and getting consistent footy under his belt.
“We’re trying to create self-motivated players, and there’s no one more self-motivated than himself.”
The side will be without midfield stars Carter Gordon and Hunter Paisami for at least the start of the season, with both Bulldogs now a part of the Reds main squad.
Their absence is something Marshall encourages however, as he aims to provide a platform for players to reach their potential.
“What’s driving us, is that we’re trying to create an environment where all players, and coaches for that matter, are able to unleash their potential and achieve what they want to achieve,” Marshall said,
“For different people that means different things, there are players in our group who want to be professional players and there are guys who just want to play regular First Grade.
“It’s really incumbent on us as coaches to create that environment, and we do that out on the field, with what we’re doing in the gym, some strength and conditioning and some education stuff.
“At the same time, the big thing we’re trying to do is develop a connection between each other and that team and club culture and have a realisation of what this club is.”