Dragons devise new training programme

Catalans Dragons have been ground-breakers in so many ways, but more boundaries were broken last week with the launch of a pioneering home training scheme for players following a clampdown by the French government in an attempt to deal with the COVID-19 problem.
Richard Hunwicks (pictured), the Head of Performance at Stade Gilbert Brutus, is co-ordinating a unique closed-circuit video training scheme in an attempt to maintain fitness and strength for squad members to be able to resume playing once the virus has passed.
Working under coach Steve McNamara, Hunwicks is holding one-on-one sessions with players and linking the team through a private network to maintain team-bonding, competitiveness and match-fitness, both physically and mentally.
France is in disease-control lockdown with police monitoring the movements of people and strict isolation rules being enforced with the full strength of the law. All schools, colleges, bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and public areas, including parks and beaches, have been closed, with the general public told to stay at home or face fines or even prison.
“It’s an incredible challenge for anyone, never mind a Rugby League club,” Hunwicks told League Express.
“But we’ve got to deal with this on a day to day basis and I’m pleased with the way the club is handling things.”
Hunwicks, who worked alongside McNamara when he was England coach, is one of the most experienced strength, fitness and conditioning professionals in the game and although he admitted he is now working in “unprecedented times” he said he was happy with how the squad had responded.
He said: “The playing group is on active duties within an isolated environment in their own family homes. They are all tasked with different daily work-outs that are very simple in essence but the players are reporting in regularly and showing us the things they are doing to keep fit and healthy. Healthy is probably the priority at this point; it is so important that they do not risk stressing their immune system.
“They are fully aware that they have to abide by the rulings put in place by the authorities in France, but with the benefit of WhatsApp and video calls they are touching base regularly and we communicate daily as a group. Individually they report to me to let me know what they have done.
“It’s at this point in time when you realise the amount of work you do as a coach or member of staff at a club and the measure of the trust that the players have in you has been exceptional.
“They are professional athletes and they know how much work they put in over the pre-season to get in good condition and they don’t want to see that loss in all of the effort they have put in.”
The physical conditioning of players is only one part of the current process for the Dragons. Isolation and confinement can also have an impact on a players’ mental health, which Hunwicks is fully aware of.
“The players are used to being part of a team and it’s difficult to maintain that pack mentality when you’re training at home. It might be easier for those who have families and children to play with, but some of the single guys who are here on their own will be doing hours and hours without interacting socially and it is a concern.
“We’re a very sociable bunch of people Rugby League people and it’s up to us to make sure everyone is included and doesn’t feel like they are on their own. We’ve got an incredibly good staff here at the Dragons who are all involved in this.
“Our Welfare Officer, coaching and medical staff are all contributing and supporting each other. It’s funny because Catalans are in isolation, in a way, from other Super League clubs because of where we are geographically so we’re a tight-knit group and we look after each other.”
The COVID-19 virus has hit France hard and with Perpignan very close to Spain, the city is particularly exposed to the threat of infection. Thankfully, Hunwicks reported that no member of the playing group had presented symptoms of the disease.
“Everyone has followed the advice from our club doctor who has given very clear instructions. Everyone is being sensible and they continue to be healthy at this point, so we’re really lucky.
“We are in daily contact through our General Manager Alex Chan, coach Steve and Chief Executive Christophe Levy with the local authorities and the RFL and we follow guidelines and update as and when they occur.
“The big difference between us and UK clubs is that we’re governed by French law, which is quite stringent at the moment in terms of what we can and can’t do, but we know that is for a good reason.
“We’re getting lots of advice from lots of sources and sometimes the translations for our overseas players can be difficult, but we’re handling it well so far. Our health is the most important thing.”
Looking forward, Hunwicks said the future for the game was unclear: “We’re all writing an unwritten book and every day is a new page,” he said.
“I try to not over think it and deal with it in quite simple, practical terms. We’ll get guys back on the field as soon as we can.
“There is no research book or reference paper on this one, so we should probably guide it by common sense and that’s one thing that Rugby League has got plenty of.
“When things ease up, hopefully, the plan is to get together in small groups and conduct a condensed pre-season again. We’ll have to revisit strength and running exposure and contact exposure. We’ll taper those things up gradually with whatever time frame we are given and make sure we don’t do too much too soon.
“We need to build a tolerance to all of these things and it might be a two-week run-in, we don’t know yet but if we have to lock and load immediately it will be a challenge and something that will feature in my book when I finish my career.
“We don’t know the full size of it yet, because we’re only at the start of it, but I’m personally very lucky to have good people around me, a good coach, great medical staff and a great crew of players who are willing to do what it takes. We’ve got a fantastic Chairman in Bernard (Guasch) who is supporting our every move and backing everything we do
“At the moment we’re responding one day at a time but I’m looking forward to playing the Grand Final on Boxing Day. Wouldn’t that be great?”