As the Betfred Super League restarts, Hull FC’s Head of Elite Performance Paul Hatton has described in detail the level of planning and preparation that has gone on behind-the-scenes at the Jacuzzi Elite Performance Centre in preparation for the first-team squad returning to training.
After a four month lay-off in which the players were away from the training facility and training voluntarily in isolation, Hatton, alongside the club’s coaching, performance and administrative staff have been working tirelessly to ensure a safe environment for the players to return to.
The squad begun preparations for the Betfred Super League restart on 20th July, with their first fixture against Salford Red Devils on 9th August, meaning a window of three weeks to ensure the players are ready to restart the new-look unique campaign.
Speaking exclusively in his Jacuzzi Elite Performance Blog, Hatton explained: “It’s all about the planning. We have planned it as well as we could have, and it is about every member of staff knowing their own individual role.
“We need to get the work into the squad that they need in a safe and productive manner, but player and staff health has to come into that too. That is our number one priority in this current situation.
Unfortunately, during the time of lockdown, it was the planning to make the Jacuzzi Elite Performance Centre safe that has taken precedence, and not the performance side of things.
This return has been two or three months in the planning. The staff have been working tirelessly to make the facility as safe as possible for the players to return into. I know our Covid Officer Feka Paleaaesina and our CEO James Clark have been in on the weekend making sure all the signage is right and all the sanitisers are in the right place for example. Eco Brite have been in twice a week cleaning the facility, and we’ve done everything we possibly can to ensure safety. Our club doctor has even said we’re doing more to protect the players than they’re doing at work in the NHS.
And with the guidelines changing constantly, we have to keep changing our plans too which is a challenge but we’re able to adapt as long as we keep working together.”
Many members of the squad took it upon themselves to complete voluntary training programmes during lockdown, provided by Hatton and his staff, with many coming back in impressive shape, according to the Head of Elite Performance.
He explained: “The big thing we need to be careful with over the next few weeks is training load. We sent the boys optional fitness plans to complete voluntarily over the past few months throughout lockdown.
By the look of the way they have returned, most of them have completed them and come back in really good nick.
We’ve managed to get information on how much work they’ve done, how many metres they’ve run, and lots of other information, which helps us to plan these next few weeks a little bit more.
The big thing we are looking for is the quality of their movement out on the field, and the amount of load we can get into them in the short period of time we have with them before the first game.
We started from a set point and gradually increased that throughout lockdown. They have done a hell of a lot – some of them are in phenomenal shape now, having lost weight and aerobically are a hell of a lot fitter. We set the bar high and they’ve met that.”
In terms of time for recovery, Hatton believes the break was a blessing in disguise for some of the members of the squad who were carrying smaller injuries, allowing a period of rest for knocks and niggles to heal, but says the fact they could not manage the players in person presented issues.
“The break was a blessing for some of those guys. But the issue there is that they needed a break to get their injuries right, but they also needed the time to get some quality work into them.
The issue around that is that we aren’t there to watch them and guide them, so you’re just hoping that they’re conducting themselves the best way they can. We did what we could over Zoom, but that’s not always ideal so it was difficult at times. But for some of those guys, they’ll benefit from the recovery time and rest period.
Those boys who have smaller injuries will really reap the rewards of the recovery spa provided by Jacuzzi when the restrictions are lifted for us to use it again. We saw the benefits of its usage in those few months at the start of the season, and we’re really keen to get it up and running again as soon as it is safe for us to do so.
But we’ve pretty much got a clean bill of health. There are a few little bits that need some work with some of the boys, things that we haven’t been able to get on top of as we haven’t seen them in so long. But the entire squad have trained fully over the course of the first couple of weeks back.”
There continues to be difficulties for Hatton on a daily basis, as well as interim head coach Andy Last, in planning sessions and ensuring they are conducted in a safe and suitable manner.
“It can be difficult in that department, and everything is monitored too so you have to be careful with that. We’ve got proximity monitors on our GPS which need sending into the RFL every day to show how much time we’ve all been in close contact with each other.
You just have to be smart with your planning. Andy Last and Kieron Purtill have been really methodical in their planning for their on-field sessions, as there are guidelines for the amount of time you can be in contact in a tackle, and your sessions can only be a set amount of time.
It is difficult for our physios too. They’re covered head to toe in PPE gear and actually look like surgeons. It is only if the boys desperately need treatment that they’re allowed to get it.”