At the turn of the year, the idea of virtual training sessions seemed nothing short of unnecessary and perhaps ever so slightly ludicrous.
Fast forward to May and group sessions over apps like Zoom have quickly become the norm as the UK gets used to a very different way of life amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
The beauty of virtual training runs is that they can be done from anywhere – back gardens, garage gyms, local parks. But Wigan Warriors Women’s side have connected with Australia as they continue to prepare for their delayed season to begin.
Warriors head coach Kris Ratcliffe contacted the man behind rugbyleaguecoach.com.au – an online Rugby League resource, offering elite coaching even during lockdown – and every member of his squad was supplied with online memberships to allow them to do game-specific training. The squad has also carried out the programme’s “Shape Up or Ship Out” training sessions via Zoom.
This, on top of all the club-led training they have been doing has left new captain Rachel Thompson confident that the squad are in a strong position ahead of any return to full training and playing later in the year.
“It’s a strange situation for us all, but we’re adapting quite well to lockdown training,” centre Thompson told totalrl.com.
“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible so we’re still doing training sessions over Zoom on a Tuesday and Thursday as we would normally do and then again when we should have been playing on the Sunday. We’ve even been arranging sessions in a morning and the evening because some of the girls are still working so they can pick which time is best for them.
“Then on the other days we’re doing things like yoga, and also doing social things like quizzes, so probably seeing each other virtually more at the moment than would do if we were in training.
“The website we’ve been using from Australia has loads of resources on and the coach that runs it has specifically done a programme based on isolation training and working on your own.
“He gave us all free access to those resources and we can log on together and do some of it as a squad or on our own if we want.
“As well as fitness sessions, he’s shown us lots of skills can do with a ball even on your own. There is only so much can come up with yourself to keep the skill level up, so it’s been great to have that tool there we can use. It’s been very helpful to us all.
“We’re all just hammering our fitness as much as we can at the minute so that when we do get back together we are ready to go with ball work and getting ready to play again.
“We have never done a pre-season as intense, or as long as this so we’ll definitely be going into games fitter than ever have been.
“Working as we have been in the current situation has brought us closer as a team then were when this started.”
Having won the Grand Final and finishing second in the league in 2018, last season’s fourth-placed finish – eight points behind third-placed Leeds – and failure to reach either of the showpiece finals, was no doubt a disappointment for all those involved with the Cherry and Whites.
A change in coach midway through the season saw Ratcliffe step up to replace the departing Amanda Wilkinson caused some disruption as well.
But for Thompson, who scored a hat-trick in that Grand Final victory over Leeds, a more settled season and not having all eyes on them again when they finally return to action in 2020 will benefit the squad.
“As a team, we just want to get back on the pitch and when we do, hopefully, the bond we have built up over the last couple of months will show and we will deliver out there,” added England squad member Thompson, who will be fit to play when the season kicks off after suffering a back injury during the Yorkshire v Lancashire Origin Series earlier this year.
“Because we’d won the Grand Final in 2018, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to repeat that and that didn’t really help us.
“But now we’ll have gone back to not necessarily having that pressure on us to perform, and we have gone back to being a bit of an underdog. We probably prefer that and it could work in our favour. We want to be known for what we do on the pitch rather than past reputations.
“We had a few changes throughout last season – player and coaching wise, which wasn’t ideal and it all took some getting used to. That probably reflected in our performances and there was a sense at times that we just tried to get through last season rather than trying to achieve anything. We looked to get through the season so we could regroup and start again and that’s what we have done.”