It’s not quite back to business as normal – the biosecurity protocols don’t yet allow for contact work or training in large groups – but it is an important day nonetheless.
“Wednesday will be a moment to put the training gear and the boots back on, to step back onto Shark Park and get the footy back in the hands,” Morris said. “Then it will feel real.
“If you’re speaking to me on Wednesday arvo and I’m planning more footy sessions than fitness sessions, it means we have come back in pretty good nick.”
Morris himself will return to work in a good headspace. The former 300-gamer expects his players to have used their isolation time productively and has led by example.
“The break was great for self-reflection, to look back on my first year as an NRL coach – what worked, what didn’t and what I need to work on,” he said.
To that end, his personal development has benefited from bouncing philosophies off other sporting coaches. Morris, former Australian netball coach Lisa Alexander, Roosters assistants Nathan Cayless and Matt King and former AFL stars Corey Enright and Robert Harvey have all been workshopping ideas as part of a mentoring program run by consultancy Leading Teams.
“They have been great,” Morris said. “Particularly in that leadership space, the AFL is probably in front of the NRL. It’s been good to hear how they have engaged their groups and [facilitator] Ray [McLean] is good at helping you establish your own personal trademark and coaching philosophies. I felt I used the break to my advantage and I’m keen to get back and go again.”
The Sharks can’t afford to restart slowly. They pushed top teams South Sydney and Melbourne to the limit in the opening two rounds, despite missing injured stars Matt Moylan, Bronson Xerri and Josh Dugan. However, they are one of six teams yet to open their account for 2020 and can’t afford to fall further behind in a shortened season.
Which is why Morris and his coaching staff have been in constant contact with their charges during lockdown. There have been constant Zoom meetings, including one last weekend that involved every single player and staffer to ensure they hit the ground running this week.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it as a coach and be creative to come up with ways to adapt,” Morris said. “That’s what coaching is all about, having the ability to change the plan and have a plan B because nothing ever goes to plan in the NRL. It’s been a good challenge actually. It’s good to come up with fresh ideas.
“Even over the break, we had to come up with ways to stimulate the group. We’d share not only strength and conditioning exercises but also vision of staff (demonstrating) the skills we want the players to do, all the drills.”
Every player has had to post testing results for every week in isolation, including yo-yo or 1.2km time trials.
“It’s obviously an honesty test, but the boys aren’t silly enough to send in a time they can’t repeat when they come back to training,” Morris said. “We don’t expect them to be perfect but the scores that come back show they have been maintaining their fitness.
“Some of the guys not entrenched in the top 17 have used this time to rip in and pull back the gap between where they were and the guys in the 17.
“Your leaders also naturally come to the fore. Chad Townsend has been fantastic, there’s Jack Williams. Bronson Xerri, I saw him training last week and I’d say out of everyone he looks like he has really worked on his body. Looking at him walking through the gates for the first time [on Monday], he looks more robust than when we were stood down.”
Some of the winless clubs pushed for the NRL ladder to be reset to zero points. Despite consecutive losses, the Sharks have shown enough to convince themselves they are a genuine premiership contender.
“Everyone wants to be a top-four club and we have some standards about what that looks like,” Morris said. “I don’t think that will change. We are aware we are 0-2 and need to flick the switch pretty quickly, we can’t afford to have a slow start.
“The worst thing I can do as a coach is talk about results and numbers, that we need to win this amount of games. What we need to do is focus on our game and the process of what we need to do. That starts with our preparation [from Wednesday].”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.