Eight-round recap: Jets setting standards
WITH the Ipswich Jets on a bye this week, I thought we might take stock of the first eight weeks of the Intrust Super Cup season and remind ourselves of how the green and white have faired so far in 2018.
Good enough, but not for long enough
Round 1 @ PNG Hunters: Tasks do not come much tougher than away to the defending champions to open the season. But on the back of a solid pre-season and with some talented new faces in the line-up, the Jets travelled to the National Football Stadium with confidence.
Losing halfback Dane Phillips early in the contest threw the Jets' plans out the window. When the Hunters went 12-0 up midway through the first half, it appeared a task too-far for the green and white.
But when Pio Seci crossed on debut and Wes Conlon added the extras, the future looked a little brighter.
Hunters half Watson Boas crossed for his second try on the stroke of half time to stymie the Jets' momentum, and send the hosts into the break with a 16-6 advantage.
A high-stakes arm wrestle opened the second half, with both sides failing to capitalise on scoring opportunities as the Port Moresby heat started to play a factor.
In his first game as captain, Nat Neale kept the Jets in touch with 20 minutes to play when he crashed over to reduce the deficit to four points.
But as in the first half, the Hunters scored at the death to escape with a 22-12 result.
Ben White was named players' player in his "best game in a Jets jersey”.
"We had a game plan that took it right up to them,” Jets chairman Steve Johnson told The QT from Port Moresby.
"We could have easily won that game.”
Match report: Jets test state league champions in PNG
Statement win over premiership favourites
Round 2 v Townsville Blackhawks: The punter's premiership fancies visited North Ipswich Reserve for Defence Force Appreciation Round.
And fresh from a 56-12 thumping of the Mackay Cutters, Townsville did little to disprove those thoughts.
A rivalry built upon the Jets' 2015 grand final defeat of the Blackhawks was only heightened by the return of former favourite sons Rod Griffin and Carlin Anderson in opposition colours.
Marmin Barba took his place on the wing for his first game in nearly two years. It was a script writer's dream.
Cometh the moment, cometh the captain. Nat Neale led the Jets to a 20-18 victory, with 32 tackles in a man-of-the-match performance.
Wes Conlon, Rory Humphreys and Barba all crossed to score for the hosts, who enjoyed 70% possession and dominated field position against their more fancied rivals.
A 12-0 half time lead was quickly eroded by the Blackhawks, but weight of possession proved decisive and the Jets had their first win of season 2018.
"We are happy (with the performance) but we know there is always room for improvement,” Neale said in the sheds post-match.
Match report: Can't stop Nat
Hafoka heroics denies Tigers
Round 3 @ Easts Tigers: Rivalry round drew a monster crowd to Langlands Park for the Tigers, Jets clash.
The hosts had shown questionable early season form in defeat to the CQ Capras and a narrow win over the Mackay Cutters.
Form lines pointed to a Jets victory, but the first half proved an arm wrestle as both sides traded blows.
Fullback Michael Purcell opened the scoring for Ipswich inside 10 minutes, however the Tigers quickly responded through Patrick Kaufusi.
The tit-for-tat continued minutes later; Wes Conlon putting the green and white ahead once more before former Jet Jarrod McInally restored parity soon after.
Nat Neale sent the visitors into the sheds with the advantage when he crashed over under the posts just prior to half time.
At the restart, the momentum swung heavily in the Jets' favour. Dane Phillips and Tyson Lofipo crossed in consecutive sets to blow the lead out to 20 points.
With 20 minutes remaining and the Jets seemingly in cruise control, the momentum swung to the Tigers.
The hosts piled on three tries in 12 minutes to set up a heart-stopping finish.
Isimeeli Hafoka was the saviour on debut. The youngster throwing himself at a high ball to the back of the in-goal after the siren to knock the ball dead.
Hafoka was gifted a bag of ice for his troubles, and the Jets gifted two competition points in a tough 32-26 road win.
"At 30-10 we were well in control, and obviously we took the foot off the pedal and invited them back in. But it was a nice win,” coach Ben Walker said.
"Even though he wasn't on for long, he had a big impact. It is one for him to remember, that's for sure,” Walker added of Hafoka's contribution.
Match report: Jets silence crowd in win over Easts
Complacent Jets come back to Earth
Round 4 @ CQ Capras: Coach Shane Walker warned of complacency ahead of the Jets' trip to Rockhampton to take on the Capras.
Following consecutive wins over perennial powerhouse sides in Townsville and Easts, the Jets were expected to account for the Capras even on a short week.
But no one shared the script with the hosts, who raced out to a 10-0 half time lead.
Wes Conlon, Michael Purcell and Denzel Burns all crossed inside 20 minutes of second-half play to bring the Jets roaring back into the contest.
But the Capras wrested momentum back from the visitors, and highly-touted hooker Billy Gilbert put the Central Queensland outfit back in front with 20 minutes to play.
The hosts extended their lead shortly after, and back rower Jamie Hill rubber stamped the result with only seconds to play.
The Jets' win streak was halted at two.
'Michael Purcell, he's a freak'
Round 5 v Northern Pride: All the talk in the build-up was of Todd Carney's presence at North Ipswich Reserve.
But the 2010 Dally M Medallist was shaded by teammate Jake Clifford and Jets half Dane Phillips over 80 minutes.
Clifford was afforded high praise from Jets coach Shane Walker, who labelled the Pride star "the best halfback we've coached against since Daly Cherry-Evans”.
It came in the same week Phillips' kicking game had been compared to NRL great Alfie Langer. And neither player disappointed.
Clifford and Carney combined to send the Cairns outfit into half time with a 12-0 advantage following tries to William Bugden and Shawn Bowen.
But the scoreline did not reflect the arm wrestle, and the Jets came out in the second half keen to make amends.
It started with Michael Purcell, whose stunning solo effort to break through the line brought up the hosts' first points of the match.
Pio Seci drew the Jets within two points, five minutes later before Nat Neale stepped the fore to give the green and white a four-point lead with 20 minutes to play.
Opportunities went begging for both sides in a frantic final few minutes, but the Jets held on for a memorable victory.
Purcell was named players' player for his individual efforts, and the fullback drew praise from his coach.
"Michael Purcell, he's an absolute freak,” Shane Walker said post-match.
"I wish some of the horses I back could finish that same way, with that same burst (of speed).”
Match report: Purcell powers Jets to victory
Jets lose mental edge to Cutters
Round 6 v Mackay Cutters: Ipswich were aiming to complete a North Queensland trifecta when the Mackay Cutters came to town on April 14.
With wins on the board over Townsville and Cairns, Mackay was the next NQ side to try their luck at North Ipswich Reserve.
And unlike their more-fancied neighbours, the Cutters actually succeeded.
Mackay winger Johnny Faletagoa'i was on the board twice inside 15 minutes as the visitors raced out of the blocks to stun a slow-starting Jets.
As in the loss to the Capras, the Jets seemingly showed up not prepared to match it with the plucky Cutters outfit.
Down 16-6 at half time, Ben and Shane Walker gave a rare rev-up to their side in the sheds.
And the Jets responded emphatically, with Michael Purcell and Rory Humphreys crossing to level proceedings inside 30 minutes to play.
But from there complacency set back in; the Cutters ran in two late tries and the Jets spurned multiple chances on the way to a 28-18 defeat.
"When you think you can just roll in and beat a team, that is not going to work,” Ben Walker said.
"It's ok to have a loss if you perform well and get beaten by a better team, but I don't think that was the case.
"When you lose to teams you think are inferior to you, that's a bitter pill to swallow.”
Match report: 'No positives' for wasteful Jets
Caslick defies orders, kicks sealer
Round 7 @ Sunshine Coast Falcons: The beaten 2017 grand finalists had endured a middling start to their 2018 campaign, but even without key posts Ryley Jacks and Joe Stimson, the Falcons at home were always going to prove a stern test.
The Jets again conceded first points when Christopher Lewis crossed in the seventh minute. But the visitors responded through Julian Christian and Michael Purcell to take a 14-8 lead into half time.
Matt Soper-Lawler put the hosts ahead just inside the hour mark. 10 minutes later, Conlon converted a penalty to square the ledger at 16-all.
The scores remained locked deep into the second half, before Same Caslick came to the fore.
History will show the Rugby Sevens convert defied a dislocated shoulder and the orders of his coaches to rifle through a 40m field goal with one minute remaining to hand the Jets a 17-16 result.
"Apparently Ben and Shane were yelling: 'No field goals', but I couldn't hear them because I was on the other side of the pitch,” Caslick recalled.
"The boys put us in an opportunity to win the game. My job coming off the bench is to try and get us over the line, and I'm glad I was able to do that.”
The win came at a price however, with fullback Michael Purcell breaking his arm late in the contest.
Match report: Caslick ignores orders, kicks the game sealer
Hat-trick hero earns new name
Round 8 v Redcliffe Dolphins: The Phins came to North Ipswich Reserve on a five-game winning run, and the punter's favourites in a head-to-head clash with the Jets.
Young Redcliffe gun Kotoni Staggs had set the competition alight through seven rounds, and led the ISC in scoring.
He would add six more points to his ledger in this one - but it was his opposite number in green and white who starred.
Pio Seci had been slowly working his way into form for the Jets since coming across the Pacific from Fiji.
On this day, Pio became 'Three-o'.
Seci opened the scoring in the 29th minute, before adding two second-half tries in the space of five minutes to complete his hat-trick.
Sam Caslick backed up his heroics from the previous week by racing down the sideline for his first try of the season after some impressive build-up play from the Jets.
Staggs pegged one back in the ensuing set for the visitors, but the Jets' stout defence held out for the remaining 15 minutes.
The hosts recorded an impressive 22-16 result, leap-frogging the Dolphins and into fifth in the process heading into the bye week.
"It's an alright name, I'll go with that,” Seci said of his new 'Three-o' moniker teammate Ben Shea gave him in the sheds post-match.
"It's been a good experience playing Queensland Cup for the first time. Coming from Fiji and experiencing the level of the game here.
"It feels like home.”
Match report: Hat-trick hero gets a new name
Stern tests await
THE Jets' mettle will be tested over the next month.
Ipswich return to action on May 12 against Tweed Heads, who have won three on the trot and are seemingly back in form.
Following that is three matches against top five opposition, starting with Norths Devils (2nd) and ending on June 2 against ladder-leaders Burleigh.
Those clashes bookend a highly-anticipated clash with nearest rivals Souths Logan Magpies (5th) on May 27.
Coming up: May 12 @ Tweed Heads Seagulls; May 19 v Norths Devils; May 27 @ Souths Logan Magpies; June 2 v Burleigh Bears.