'Jets of old' ready to explode after thriller
RUGBY LEAGUE: It wasn't quite the Jets of old but anyone who watched Ipswich's blazing finish would sense that exciting prospect might be close.
Last year's grand finalists Easts Tigers were clawing for their lives in last night's Intrust Super Cup clash. Easts desperately held out the Jets 22-20 in a North Ipswich Reserve thriller.
Ipswich's best team of the past may have triumphed in the latest game. However, there was no denying the positive signs that emerged after two disappointing defeats to the Blackhawks and Burleigh.
Down 18-2 at halftime, the Jets rallied to produce some of their trademark attacking magic to all but grab a last-gasp victory.
"We did have them on the ropes but a few things didn't go our way tonight,'' Jets co-coach Shane Walker said.
"Once again, the first 20 minutes was a very tight game and we probably were a bit unlucky on a couple of plays. For whatever reason, they ended up in front.
"Then the great thing for us was, for the last 30-35 minutes, we recognised the football team that we used to have.
"They were back. They looked like the Jets . . . an exciting team.''
Returning Jet Josh Cleeland led the fightback.
Wearing his familiar headgear, Cleeland directed the team in attack, making dangerous runs, firing up bombs hard to handle and putting in deft short kicks close to the line.
His individual brillance almost got the Jets home as he had done many times with Ipswich prior to a stint with Canterbury in the NRL.
"The good thing about Josh is it's taken him a couple of weeks (to settle back in),'' Walker said. "He's been down in that NRL system for the last three years and his mindset is in that sort of way to play.
"Tonight he was running the ball and he was all over the park and that's what we want from him.''
Up front, captain Nat Neale, workaholic Ben Shea and powerhouse Billy McConnachie picked up the tempo in the second half after Easts threatened to run away with the game.
"Ben had a lot of carries. He was strong and a lot of the boys played a lot better games tonight,'' Walker said.
Tigers finished the first half on top having received the late inclusions of Melbourne Storm contingent Billy Walters, Pat Kaufusi, and Albert Vete.
However, a new Jets recruit showed he will be a force this season after making a powerful debut.
Former Wynnum Manly Seagulls strongman Peter Gubb scored the 75th minute try that dragged the Jets within two points of equalising.
Ipswich's earlier second half tries were scored by winger Richard Pandia and halfback Julian Christian.
Pandia capitalised out wide when Easts were a man down after lock Bennett Leslie received 10 minutes in the sinbin for a professional foul.
Clawing back to 18-6, the Jets kept themselves in the game.
"Richie Panda was probably back near his best at the end,'' Walker said.
Christian's try, off a short kick, was converted by winger Marman Barba to narrow the deficit to 22-14.
Newcomer Gubb's late powerful surge over the line had the Tigers clinging desperately to their lead.
"He had a real impact too,'' Walker said of Gubb. "His first touch was a try, his first tackle was a big shot that really lifted the team and it was wonderful to have him out there tonight.''
After Barba's final conversion attempt missed, Easts ran down the clock to leave North Ipswich Reserve feeling like they had won Lotto.
And Ipswich's next opponents Northern Pride can expect a revitalised Jets opponent.
"You can never be happy with a loss,'' Walker said. "But the good thing for us was we at least played the way we liked.''
State of play
Intrust Super Cup Rd 3: Easts 22 (Matt Cooper, Bennett Leslie, Billy Walters, Curtis Dansey Smaller tries; Aaron Booth 2, Sam Foster conversions) def Ipswich Jets 20 (Richard Pandia, Julian Christian, Peter Gubb tries; Marman Barba 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals) at North Ipswich Reserve.