It was the first day of Waratahs pre-season training in December, 30 degrees, and the players were forced to run up a monstrous Moore Park hill 12 times having already completed gruelling weights and field work sessions.
In the pounding sun, one booming voice rang out over the breathless panting.
“Get to the cone!” Paddy Ryan fumed as sweat beads showered the ground beneath him.
“Blokes are pulling up short. You don’t stop til you get to the cone.
“If we start taking one less step today, it will be five less next week.”
The offending players, heads bowed, trundled back down the hill and made sure that every time thereafter, they didn’t stop climbing until they passed the coloured cones set down as markers on the hill.
It was an intriguing moment, highlighting the strength of Ryan among the NSW playing group.
This first session was sans the Wallabies stars who were still in the United Kingdom, while Tahs captain Dave Dennis was doing his own knee rehabilitation exercises nearby.
Asked about his passionate outburst, Ryan replied: “Like last year, when Denno went down, Hoops (Michael Hooper) had to stand up.
“The guys that are leaders, there weren’t any blokes at the Tahs who could say what they think.
“Jono [Lance] and Tilsey [Jeremy Tilse] were there but they have a different style of leading.
“Someone had to pull everyone up.
“It’s something I’ve spoken to Daryl [Gibson] about, there is a good opportunity for me this year, there are no real expectations.
“I am not saying something for the sake of talking, that is just not me.
“But if there is something I feel can be said to help us improve, or make sure we’re not slacking off, I will say it.
“We can’t afford to clock off, because everyone is coming for us.
“Ever when we weren’t winning other teams targeted us — because we’re the Waratahs.”
And for the first time, the Waratahs plan for a new season as defending champions.
“We can’t take any shortcuts anywhere,” Ryan said.
“We’ve got a great group of blokes, everyone wants to rip in and do work.”
Ryan’s authoritative demeanour could make him an effective captain one day, though he baulks at that prospect.
“I don’t think being a prop is captaincy work, you’ve got enough to worry about in the scrums.“The best way for someone like me to lead is just by doing my job,” he said.
“How can you tell a bloke to do his job when you’re not doing yours?”
But Ryan is determined to ensure the Waratahs enter this season with no question marks over their conditioning or motivation.
“Tom Carter drove standards better than anyone, and so did Tim Davidson,” Ryan said.
“Phil Waugh was a big influence on the culture, and Benn Robinson now also drives standards in his own way.
“If I can help in some way that is what I will do.
“Whenever I play my best footy, it is when I’m anchoring down that scrum, providing a ball-carrying option in the midfield, and bringing that physicality to everything; the rucks and the scrummaging.”
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