NEWCASTLE Falcons centre James Fitzpatrick admits the memory of his first pre-season with the club will never leave him.
Now three years into a burgeoning professional career, the former South Shields truck mechanic was given a painful introduction to life at the elite end of the game.
Stepping up from amateur level after shining for Westoe and Blaydon, Fitzpatrick said: “We were doing an absolutely brutal hill-running session up Whickham Bank, near Blaydon Rugby Club.
“My calves were burning and I couldn’t walk afterwards, but your body just adapts and after a couple of months you get used to training at that level every day.
“Going from being an amateur training two nights a week to being a pro and doing triple sessions every day, it does take time.
“Even for the seasoned lads it takes a lot out of them, but you get the benefits later on in the season for the hard work you put in now.”
Such is the life of a professional player these days that the days of the two-month off-season booze binge are consigned to history.
Fitzpatrick said: “I prefer to hit pre-season running by training during my holidays, rather than sitting at home getting fat and lazy.
“All my mates in South Shields were at work anyway during the day, so I kept myself ticking over with bits of training. It has worked out well, and even though we are being given a week off later in the summer I won’t be drinking or anything like that. It’s just not worth it.”
Putting in the hard yards during the opening fortnight back on duty, he added: “The first day we had a yo-yo test, which is basically running until you can’t keep going any longer.
“That was a pretty full-on way to begin, and it has got harder each day. We are building into it, and we are having to put in five or six sessions every single day.
“It is tiring work, but as well as our gym training we are also doing skills, defence and a lot of good quality rugby. It is not like the old days where you were purely doing fitness for the first two months.”
Already enjoying the influence of new defence coach Graham Steadman, the centre said: “We have not yet done full-on tackling, but we have got into the technique side of things.
“A lot of the principles are similar to what Mike Ford brought towards the end of last season, and everyone is getting used to the calls that he wants us to use. On the technical side he is very clear about what he wants from us, and even though we are just doing it in limited contact at the moment it just means when we eventually go full throttle we know exactly what to do.
“It is really enjoyable for me to have that, because I am a player who really benefits from working on my defence with the direction that Graham is giving us. It is important to keep doing it, and the coaches are working well together.”
And while the bulk of the North East rugby community is eagerly awaiting Dean Richards’ August arrival, Fitzpatrick admits the new director of rugby remains somewhat of a mystery.
“I have to be honest and say I don’t actually know much about him,” he said. “I only turned professional two years ago, and before that although I was playing as an amateur I was not somebody who really followed rugby at the top level.
“Obviously you hear the things people say about Dean and it is great to hear he is regarded so highly.
“But from a personal point of view it will be all new because he is not somebody I have seen a lot of.”