Rugby League

Canberra Raiders to prevent NRL burnout with phone app

It shapes as the toughest training period ahead of the longest NRL season in history, but the Canberra Raiders have turned to their smartphones and a scientific application to try and protect players from burnout.

Adopting technology used by the NSW Blues during their State of Origin series victory this year, the Raiders have invested in finger sensors and the scientific phone application ithlete that will enable them to measure the wellbeing of every player as they wake every morning.

Raiders recruits, Sisa Waqa and Blake Austin, join in pre-season training.
Raiders recruits, Sisa Waqa and Blake Austin, join in pre-season training. Photo: Graham Tidy

The phone application essentially acts as a portable laboratory, providing heart-rate data that will allow Raiders conditioning staff to measure warning signs of fatigue and customise training for individual players.

As NRL premiers South Sydney embark on a costly pre-season trip to train at altitude in Arizona, the Raiders hope the relatively small investment in the devices - about $6,000 - will provide valuable information required to get every player in peak condition, without the risk of pushing them over the edge.

Raiders Edrick Lee, left, and David Shillington back in pre-season slog.
Raiders Edrick Lee, left, and David Shillington back in pre-season slog. Photo: Graham Tidy

The window between NRL seasons continues to get smaller. Canberra's representative players like Josh Papalii and Josh Hodgson are still competing in the Four Nations tournament, while the rest of the Raiders squad returned to pre-season training on Wednesday.

Already, concerns have been raised about next year's exhausting schedule, kicking off with the Auckland Nines tournament in the last weekend in January, a reborn All Stars game and trial fixtures in February, before the 26-round NRL season begins in March.

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In the off-season, Raiders head conditioning coach Nigel Ashley-Jones and his staff visited AFL club Port Adelaide, who are already using and endorsing the ithlete app. Raiders centre Jarrod Croker also recommended the app to Canberra staff after spending time in Origin camp with the NSW Blues this year.

The ithlete app comes with a finger sensor that plugs into smartphones. It measures heart-rate variability - or fluctuations in heartbeat - which scientific research suggests is one of the major indicators of health and fitness. Each player's individual results will be collated and assessed daily by Raiders' staff.

iThlete, a phone application device used for sporting teams such as the Canberra Raiders, to measure heart rate variability.
iThlete, a phone application device used for sporting teams such as the Canberra Raiders, to measure heart rate variability. 

"It's a very accurate way of working out a player's wellbeing, I know they used it in State of Origin this year," Ashley-Jones said.

"The players have an app on their phone, every morning they'll wake up, sit up in  bed and put a sensor over their index finger [for a minute]. Heart-rate variability is about the quality of your heartbeat, it gives you a number out of 100. The higher the number the better, the fresher you are to train or play. We'll be doing that every day of the year.

"It tells you whether your system is ready for high-intensity training. Obviously in the pre-season it's about taking the boys to the line and getting them ready, but in season it'll also become a massive management tool. This gives us a scientific number rather than just a guess."

Raiders players generally acknowledged last year's pre-season as one of the toughest they had endured, but Ashley-Jones said the club needed to lift more, especially in the quest for "mental toughness".

While all NRL clubs now use GPS technology to monitor player workload, the Raiders will also be keeping statistical analysis on all skill drills performed at the end of conditioning sessions.

"Last year all the players said it was the toughest pre-season of their lives, well we're going to add 10 per cent to that," Ashley-Jones said.

"There's individuals that still need to be more mentally tough ... it's football mental toughness, having to do your job and carry out a game plan under fatigue or pressure.

"We're going to do a lot of situational stuff, get them really, really tired, then at the end of each conditioning block we'll do four-minute conditioning games where we'll keep stats."

The Raiders have tweaked their conditioning staff this season to add more specificity. Conditioning coach Leigh Woodbridge will focus on nutrition, while under-20s trainer Jeremy Robinson has stepped up to overview strength and power.

Grant Tozer will monitor sport science, including the ithlete data. The Raiders have also appointed a new doctor who will almost be full time with the team, travelling to all games.