Ryles still packs punch for Storm
Jason Ryles turned 34 in January. So how does he cope, let alone still mix it, in the rough and tumble of the NRL at that advanced age?
"I think it's just that as you get older you look after yourself a bit better," Ryles tells NRL.com. "Training, as hard as it is, is not as much for a player my age. They monitor the older players and look after you by tailoring your workload. It enables you to play longer."
Ryles has played in all four of Melbourne's games this season and done consistently well. There were times earlier in his career when he was criticised for conceding too many penalties, but with experience comes a smarter approach.
The 194-centimetre, 116-kilogram prop played 39 minutes against St George Illawarra and made 12 runs for 91 metres, plus 22 tackles. Against North Queensland it was 39 minutes, 13 runs for 86 metres, plus 23 tackles, Canterbury 40 minutes, nine runs, 84 metres, 25 tackles, and Brisbane 25 minutes, five runs, 40 metres, 22 tackles.
Ryles has also come up with three offloads and missed just the one tackle.
Those sorts of figures are exactly what Storm coach Craig Bellamy is looking for from a player like him. Someone to religiously take the ball forward with gusto and help lay the platform for superstars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, plus be ready to try to get some second-phase play going under the right circumstances.
Ryles says changes to training methods that don't lump all players in together and allow for differences in age, size, history and each individual player's job on the field have allowed him to continue playing into his mid-30s.
"The emergence of the sports science aspect of the game has changed the approach a lot," he said. "But, while sports science sounds very technical – and a fair bit of it is – a lot of it is just common sense.
"It's all good for me. While I was at the Dragons, they got into that ahead of the other teams, and now I've been at a few clubs where they manage the workload of the players very well.
"Craig Bellamy is the most thorough coach I have ever come across. Players don't get away with anything here – in training, or in games – and that's how it should be.
"The Storm have got some of the best players in their positions in the world, but it is still all about hard work. The coach is massive on that.
"I think this club does it as well as it can be done, in terms of preparation. There are only good habits here... you can't get away with any bad habits. But there is a balance – you can have fun as well, on top of the hard work."
Ryles will again be part of the team when the Storm attempt to record a club-best 13th straight win in Monday night's game against Wests Tigers at AAMI Park.
They won their last eight games of last season, which, of course, culminated in the grand final victory over Canterbury, and have backed that up with four straight wins to open this season. They previously won 12 straight in 2011.
The Tigers are looking shaky at this early stage of the season. They have beaten battlers Penrith and Parramatta, but lost heavily to both Manly and Newcastle. But Ryles says the Storm are preparing for a difficult game.
"I wouldn't be reading too much into form when you're playing a Tigers side that includes players like Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah, Adam Blair and Chris Lawrence," he said.
"The Tigers have played some pretty good football against the Storm over the years, and one thing I've noticed playing for the Storm is that other teams get themselves up for a game against us.
"I don't exactly know the reason why, but it happens. Every week is a tough game. Teams seem to play their best footy against us."
Ryles had awful luck last year when a hamstring injury sustained late in the regular season prevented him from playing in the finals series. He would obviously love for the Storm to go back to back in what he says will definitely be his final year in the NRL.
"It was shattering to miss out like that," Ryles said. "I was obviously still going for the boys, and I was very happy for them when they won, but you never get over missing out on a chance like that.
"Hopefully, we can compete for the title again this year, but there's a long way to go and a lot of hard work to do yet."