TACKLE BREAKER: Ipswich second rower Seb Pandia will play his 50th game for the Jets against the Redcliffe Dolphins today.
TACKLE BREAKER: Ipswich second rower Seb Pandia will play his 50th game for the Jets against the Redcliffe Dolphins today. Rob Williams

A broken arm, malaria and family tragedy

SEB Pandia's path to 50 games for the Ipswich Jets has been anything but smooth sailing.

The PNG international will bring up his half-century milestone against the Redcliffe Dolphins today.

It started with a broken forearm whilst in PNG Hunters camp.

Pandia came to the rescue of a teammate who was being mugged outside the team's lodgings, where they were "ambushed" and he blocked an iron bar aimed at his head.

Then while preparing for surgery in hospital, Pandia contracted malaria and lost eight kilograms.

The mental toll it took on the 27-year-old lasted long after the physical effects made way.

"Once you get injured, it's really hard to get back into the Hunters team," Pandia said at training on Thursday.

"When I tried to come back and train, I couldn't quite keep up with everyone. The Hunters, if they see you're having some sort of issue, they just release you."

Prior to his injuries, Ben and Shane Walker had already made contact with Pandia about joining the Jets.

Although the Hunters' faith may have deserted him, the Jets never wavered in their desire to bring the second rower to Ipswich.

"The only way I could get here to play footy was through a student visa," Pandia said, who is completing his first year of a Bachelor of Business Management at JCU.

"The good thing was I'd still maintained contact with (Ben and Shane)," Pandia said.

"I came out in November 2015 after the boys won the grand final, and started doing pre-season. They processed my visa, and Shane was the first one at the airport to meet me.

"There wasn't any guarantee I would make the squad or not."

The 177cm, 92kg ball of muscle struggled in his first season with the Jets, as the enormity of the move began to settle in.

Juggling a 20-hour working week with tertiary studies and training would be a hard task for anybody, but add to that the dramatic culture shift and the teething issues with form and fitness were understandable.

"It was a struggle for me, I wasn't used to working and paying my own bills," Pandia said.

"I lived with my parents and they did all of that. When I moved, Shane got me working for his company. But I was struggling with work, study and footy.

"He took a while to fit in because of the way we played," Ben Walker added.

"It was a big change for him. It took a bit of time for Seb to get his head around."

Last season, Pandia started to rediscover the form which had made him a force with the Hunters.

He has continued that growth in 2018, and is now "one of the most important players in the team" according to his coach.

Pandia leads the Jets in runs and offloads this season, and is tied with fullback Michael Purcell for tackle breaks.

"He's adapted his style to us and started to play really well," Walker said.

"It is a credit to him. He's been enormous ever since."

"I feel like over the last two seasons I'm picking up where I left off prior to my injury," Pandia added.

"Through the off-season I started working hard on the little things I needed to improve on, and I'm reaping the benefits through the start of the season."

Pandia could not speak highly enough of the Jets coaching staff and his teammates, who he said have helped to "make it feel like I'm accepted into the family."

"Last year, my partner and I we lost our babies," Pandia said.

"We lost our little boy and then at the end of 2017 we lost our daughter as well. I was in a tough state of mind.

"Shane and Ben were checking up on me, seeing how I was doing. The whole team, everyone was so supportive. It gave me the confidence, I knew I had football there to back me up."

On the eve of his 50th appearance in the green and white, following 21 games with the Hunters, Pandia said it was that "family" culture which so differentiated the Jets from his former team.

"I get to work, study and do things outside of footy," he said.

"The Hunters is 24/7 rugby.

"There's no negativity (at the Jets). The coach or your teammates focus on the positives. It's a good club and culture to have.

"People like Ben White and Rohan Winterfield - when I speak to them and they give me feedback, I feel like it's genuine. It makes me feel like I have people that are there to help."

Congratulations, Seb.