Jets scrape into finals: 'It's like Christmas'
SHANE Walker is never short of a witty analogy, and his summation of the feeling heading into Sunday's win-and-in clash with Norths was particularly poignant.
"It was like having your Christmas presents under the tree, but you're not allowed to open them until Grandma gets there in the afternoon,” Walker said.
"You can see it there. The bike is there all wrapped up, but you can't ride it yet.”
The sequence of events for when and how the Jets would get their hands on that bike - in this instance, a finals berth - changed multiple times throughout the weekend.
Every possible permutation was mulled over.
"If Easts lose by this much, and we win by this much; if Pride lose by this much” . . . in the end, the most simple scenario was also the most accurate one.
PNG held up their end of the bargain by losing in Rockhampton, thus the Jets needed to simply win at Bishop Park on Sunday to secure an elimination final berth.
"We had a good yarn about it as a group. There were a lot of different emotions about where we were at and what happened and what needed to happen,” he said.
"A few weeks ago no one was giving us any hope of making it. We kept winning, but had one eye on the other games.
"Then the Burleigh game happened (defeating Easts) and the guys were thinking, 'righto we've gotta get 33 points' and it was about getting our heads around that.
"Then the PNG game happened, and we went from needing to win by 33 to just needing to win.”
Walker said compartmentalising what was at stake and focusing on just playing footy was the most important aspect.
But the enormity of the occasion was still there, and at times it showed.
"We played pretty tight. I wouldn't say nervous, but we were tight and we never really got into things," Walker said.
"Norths are a very good side. They have five current Broncos in there plus a handful of others that have played first grade footy. We still needed to turn up and get the job done.
"It was a semi-final-like game.”
Retiring Jet Wes Conlon was forced to miss the match through illness, but the Jets were never short of explosive playmakers.
Jayden Connors continued his brilliant breakout season with a two-try effort, including an intercept try at a pivotal moment early in the contest.
Michael Purcell produced another moment of blink-and-miss-it brilliance to score his 19th try of the season.
Marmin Barba's boot proved the difference between the two sides, with three conversions and two penalty goals.
Skipper Nat Neale was named players' player.
Richie Pandia and Mitch Carpenter earned praise from Walker for their efforts.
In essence, it was another full team performance from the Jets.
Now on a five-game winning run, Walker said the team allowed themselves to celebrate their return to finals but cautioned this was only the beginning.
"It's brilliant, but it's not done,” he said. "It all starts again now.
"We go in with five wins on the trot behind us and full of confidence.”
Intrust Super Cup Round 24: Ipswich Jets 22 (J. Connors 2, M. Purcell tries; M. Barba 5 goals) def. Norths Devils 14 (S. Tagataese, Z. Strasser, P. Ulberg tries; H. Farnworth goal) at Bishop Park