Jets justify unconventional coaching style
If grand final appearances were awarded to the most entertaining team each season, the Ipswich Jets would already have a cabinet full of Intrust Super Cup trophies.
However, in the 20 seasons since the inception of the Queensland Cup, the Jets – a club famous for producing the likes of Allan Langer and the Walters brothers – have only ever made two deciders.
Noted for their unique brand of free-flowing football that is usually only found in the backyard or during lunch time on the school oval, the Jets continue to win admirers across the rugby league spectrum for their salivating style of play.
As they prepare for Sunday's preliminary final against the PNG Hunters, their first grand final qualifier since 2002, Jets co-coach Ben Walker isn’t buying into the notion that the coaching methods derived by himself and brother Shane can't pass the rigorous test of finals football.
The Jets have never missed a finals series in five seasons under the Walker brothers, although until this year they'd never made it past Week 2 of the play-offs.
Having overcome that hurdle courtesy of convincing back-to-back finals wins against 2014 premiers Northern Pride and perennial Cup powerhouse Easts Tigers, Walker believes the Jets' off-the-cuff style has already proven it can hold its own against more structured methods.
"I've heard people say that [our style] doesn't stand up to semi-final football and all that stuff, but we've scored 54 and 44 [points] in the last two weeks and only let in three tries [last weekend] so I think that speaks for itself really," Walker told NRL.com.
"You could make the same point about Easts for instance – we put 44 points on them and they only scored three tries so maybe their style doesn’t stand up?
"If I was playing semi-final footy I'd be more comfortable playing against the teams that we have to play and need to play, than I would be playing against us."
Often prepared to sacrifice field position with short kick-offs and line dropouts in attempting to regain the Steeden quickly, the Jets are confident they can outscore any side with their attacking prowess.
Finishing last under Glenn Lazarus in 2010, the Walker brothers managed to turn the Jets' fortunes around within the space of one season.
Although still refining their style during those fledging days, Ipswich increased their average points total to 26 per game in 2011 (up eight points on the previous year), while tightening up their defence by conceding 11 points less compared to 2010.
Ipswich also topped the Intrust Super Cup try-scoring tally with 109 tries during the Walkers' first season in charge, a total they trumped in 2014 (111 tries) and again in 2015 with a whopping 126 tries from 23 games.
They've had some detractors along the way but Walker insists both he and Shane, who both recently re-signed with the club for a further two seasons, have never doubted their system.
"We've always had faith. The team is getting better at adapting itself to the style so if anything it's being refined each week and is better now than what it was 12 months ago," he said.
"If it continues to get better it'll be tough for any team to beat us."
Statistics show the Jets have taken their attack to even dizzier heights this season by averaging 30 points per game – up five points on their average between the 2011 and 2014 seasons – while their defence has remained steady with an average of 21 points conceded.
The Jets will head into Sunday afternoon's showdown at Kougari Oval as favourites despite only managing one win from four attempts against the Hunters.
While Walker is unfazed by the Jets' poor record against PNG, he knows victory over the Hunters and a subsequent grand final berth won't be an easy proposition.
"The Hunters are all we're focusing on – I know it's an old cliché but we can't look any further than this weekend," he said.
"We've got a job ahead of us but I'm confident we are tracking along the right way."