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Soward: Why pre-season is the toughest part of the year

I hated training and I especially didn't like the off-season.

In my opinion, NRL clubs always start the summer slog too early.

The build-up is so long and tough when you start back in that first week of November or even if you don't get back at it until a little later if you went deep into the playoffs.

Your performances on the field won't be judged until you get to play again and round one feels like a lifetime away.

For me it was always hard as I never really returned in the best shape and it always set me back. Ahead lies running, a lot of running followed by weight sessions that are all designed to get you in peak shape before the gruelling season ahead.

I didn't enjoy the kilometres on the running track – I was built for short distance. I didn't look after my body in the later years especially after I suffered serious back injuries and that's on me but the long, repetitive off-seasons were one of the reasons why I retired early.

I do understand that players are paid for a full year, however if teams didn't get back into training until closer to the end of November, that should be sufficient to get your players ready.

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A later start and no trials would be ideal in my own opinion.

Even if you miss the finals, you could still come back six weeks before Christmas and then hit the ground running for another five weeks before you even step foot on an actual playing field for the trials.

The week leading into the first trial is always the worst – players are at their most anxious at this time of year.

You are so close to playing but have to navigate this tricky period to get to the season opener.

The trainers have been flogging your body day in and day out for over three months and then you finally get to play.

Pre-seasons aren't all bad – they can set you up as a team for your end-of-year push to the finals – but playing in the trials always made me extra nervous.

When I played at the Dragons we had the Charity Shield so at least you played for something meaningful but if it was a trial it just didn't feel the same.

As a player you have your sights on round one, not necessarily the trials unless you are still finding your way or competing for a spot in the team.

Individually you're trying to get through without injury but still get in enough of a run so you feel ready.

I understand that clubs need trials to see what they have in their roster before deciding their line-up for round one.

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As fans though I wouldn't be reading too much into any team's trial form or the scorelines. Most clubs run out their strong team for a hit-out then all the young guys and fringe first-graders.

Thankfully nobody looked like they suffered a major injury from the first bunch of trials we've had. Fingers crossed, that pattern continues next weekend.

You set your team goals before this tricky period but one injury can blow that all apart.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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