Genuine respect at Jets as champion captain praises feat
IT remains the case that when the Ipswich Jets' most successful captain speaks, everyone stops and listens.
That's why 2015 Intrust Super Cup grand final victor Keiron Lander still has such a valuable role to play at the club he loves.
He is thoroughly enjoying his task as trainer, having retired after leading the Jets to the pinnacle of their rugby league success so far.
However, the footballer renowned for being fearless, tough as nails and a natural leader has a caring side that deserves as much respect as his playing talents.
Standing in his usual sideline position next to Ben and Shane Walker in last Saturday's Intrust Super Cup match, Lander continued a special bond that started in 1999.
That was when Lander first met the Walkers, through mutual friends from Charleville, at a Zone 4 carnival at Runaway Bay. The Walkers were playing for the Broncos at the time.
"I was very fortunate to be coached by them,'' Lander said.
"They are genuine about what they do and they build a lot of trust and confidence in their players, and their ability to play the game.
"Their style is enjoying the game for what it is and play football the way it needs to be played.
"I think we've got to coach that back into players because it's been coached out of some. Ben and Shane have that ability to do that.
"I think that's why I'm so attracted to them as well. They are country fellas. They live and breathe football. They are really genuine people and that includes their partners and their kids and their mum and dad.
"They just attract good people.''
All these years later, Lander remains fiercely loyal to the Walkers.
And that's why he was so thrilled when Ben and Shane celebrated their 200th Intrust Super Cup game with an entertaining 28-16 win over Northern Pride at the North Ipswich Reserve.
"It was an unbelievable mile-stone,'' Lander said, sharing in Ipswich's wonderful victory.
"Just to coach in the Intrust Cup is a privilege and some-thing the boys spoke pretty clearly about.
"NRL is obviously the pinnacle but to be able to develop players at an elite level who not only get paid a small purse to play but also have their jobs or study or families, etc, it's a credit to them (the Walkers) achieving 200.
"No doubt they've got more games ahead of them.
"It's a credit to their style, to their personalities, to the way they go about things.
"It's phenomenal how successful they can be in such a tough rugby league environment.''
Lander clearly has a special bond with the Walker brothers as a friend, former captain, assistant coach and now sports trainer.
When appointed captain soon after joining the Jets, Lander quickly warmed to the risky but highly entertaining brand of football the Walker siblings promote.
"We started developing their style of football that they wanted to play and I was very fortunate to win a grand final with them . . . and convincingly (32-20) against some high quality opponents (the Blackhawks),'' he said.
That massive achievement was the Jets' first premiership, ending a 33 year wait.
Before handing up the boots, Lander played for the Jets team that rolled on to beat Newcastle 26-12 in the State Championship game in Sydney that followed.
When the Jets win and the dressing room buzzes as it did on Saturday afternoon, Lander said the Walker qualities shine through.
"It's where rugby league was built off,'' he said.
"The game hinges around family and little people playing at halftime and kids being a ball boy and people in the sheds seeing our players.
"That's what traditional rugby league is about.''
Lander has fearlessly backed the Jets, and the Walker brothers, from when he first joined the club in 2010.
That was after a stint playing rugby, linking in Ipswich with former teammates like Ian Lacey and Donald Malone.
"Lazo (Glenn Lazarus) was the coach at the time and Ben and Shane were assistant coaches,'' Lander recalls.
"At the end of that year, they became the incumbent coaches with Lazo moving on.
"Now they (the Walker brothers) are still there.''
And Lander remains by their side.