ON A MISSION: Josh Cleeland has eyes for a big 2019 season with the Ipswich Jets.
ON A MISSION: Josh Cleeland has eyes for a big 2019 season with the Ipswich Jets. Cordell Richardson

'I'm not giving up': New Ipswich star still has NRL dream

JOSH Cleeland refuses to "keep kicking the ground" over his lack of an opportunity at NRL level.

Instead the returning Ipswich Jet is looking forward to reprising the green and white this season, and proving wrong those who continue to doubt him.

Cleeland yesterday signed on the dotted line to confirm he would return to Ipswich after three years in Sydney with Cronulla and Canterbury Bankstown.

Despite his consistent good form for the Bulldogs in the Intrust Super Premiership, and the club's relative halves crisis at times in 2018, Cleeland was unavailable for senior selection because he was not signed to a top-30 contract.

"The way we finished and the couple of years I had down there, I thought I was unlucky not to get a chance," he said. "But you can't keep kicking the ground.

"I don't want to give up yet. I've gone close, I just have to keep trying. If I don't get there then I've had a good run, but I won't stop trying."

When he was again not offered at least a chance at NRL football this year, his first recourse was to return to his hometown club.

"It's been three years now since I've been in Sydney," he said.

"I've got a younger brother that's five, he can come to watch my games now. My wife has a younger brother now too. My family is here . . . I'm happy to be back at the Jets, where you have the most fun to play footy and my family is here."

Cleeland was a key cog in the Jets' run to the 2015 NRL State Championship.

It was his form that season which turned the head of Cronulla.

The five-eight still has fond memories of that storied 2015 run to the final.

"I see that picture every now and then . . . it was a massive year, I think we were sixth or something and had to win every game just to get in (to finals) but we kept challenging ourselves," Cleeland said.

"We only had six games of NRL experience, it was a big ask for the boys, but we pulled it off and it was an unbelievable feeling."

Cleeland returns to Ipswich "refreshed" on the intricacies of the game, and a more refined player than when he left.

"I won't lie, it took me probably a month or so - even getting pen and paper out to write down play by play just to get it through my head - but once I got it, it wasn't so bad," he said of the system change from the Jets to Cronulla.

"Going down there and learning all the ins and outs has helped me develop as a player. I'll bring back a bit of experience to help the younger boys here.

"I've been training with them the past two weeks, and I'm just excited to get out there with the boys."

Of the 17 players who took the field in the 2015 NRL State Championship win over Newcastle, only Marmin Barba, Richard Pandia, Billy McConnachie and Huskie Teutau remain.

With the recent retirement of his 2015 halves partner Dane Phillips, Cleeland is keen to get to know his new teammates and work on building a prosperous new connection in the halves.

His early takeaway?

"We have some speed here," he said.

"Seeing Julian (Christian) and (Jayden) Connors do their thing - I haven't seen (Michael) Purcell yet - I'm excited to see what they can bring.

"And we still have Marmin here, that tells you all you need to know. I'm excited."

The Jets open their Intrust Super Cup season at home to the Townsville Blackhawks on Saturday, March 9.