Familiar faces bolster Ipswich title defence
Talk of a 'rebuild' has been banned at the Ipswich Jets but the return of two very familiar faces has given the team a major boost ahead of the start of their Intrust Super Cup title defence at North Ipswich Reserve on Saturday.
The Intrust Super Cup and NRL State Championship victors have the honour of launching the 2016 season with a home game against the Norths Devils on Saturday where nine members of last year's grand final team will again take the field.
Two weeks ago Marmin Barba (rugby sevens) and Billy McConnachie (Wests Tigers) were not in the frame to line up again for the Jets but both have been welcomed back into the fold with McConnachie returning to Queensland to join the Brisbane Broncos.
Missing from last year's squad are captain Keiron Lander (retirement), Matt Parcell (Manly), Rod Griffin (Wests Tigers), Kurt Capewell (Cronulla), Josh Cleeland (Cronulla) and Kurtis Lingwoodock but new skipper Dane Phillips has full faith in the newcomers to the squad.
Two-time Allan Langer Medal winner Nathaniel Neale has returned to Ipswich after a stint with South Sydney along with Rabbitohs lower-grader Jesse Roberts and NRL veteran David Fa'alogo but Phillips said the returns of Barba and McConnachie were equally significant.
"I'd never say a rebuild at our club. What they always say is that wherever they came from before there are plenty more coming," Phillips told NRL.com.
"There are a few blokes that have left, there are a few that have come back but there are always boys from the bush that want to come to our club and we'll always welcome them.
"We've got Billy McConnachie back, Marmin Barba's back so they are two huge gains for us.
"There are some blokes that we have lost that are going to hurt us but we'll change our style a little bit to suit the players that we've got.
"The players we've got coming in are as good if not better as these other guys."
Playing a distinctive brand of football under co-coaches Shane and Ben Walker that many said would not hold up in pressure situations, Ipswich knocked over minor premiers Townsville to claim their first Intrust Super Cup title and then defeated a Newcastle Knights team full of NRL talent to win the State Championship on grand final day.
Despite their success and the fervour that surrounded their style of rugby league, Phillips doesn't believe that their position as defending premiers doesn't bring with it any extra pressure.
"There is probably an expectation now for us to do well," said Phillips.
"The last five years we've made the semis and that puts a little expectation on everyone but once you start winning you become the hunted.
"For us it's another game of footy.
"We go out there and try to win every game so it doesn't change much for us.
"Once you change your style you've got to get better as teams' defence gets better.
"It's the little things you do on the field, the extra passes or guys understanding what defences are doing.
"They're not big things but I think subtly the guys in our team are good enough to pick up on how other teams are trying to combat us and try to get around them."
With an adventurous style of football the Jets were able to score tries from almost any point on the field last season and have even more strike at their disposal in 2016.
Sudanese-born winger Chol Chol has already generated headlines in pre-season for his try-scoring ability but Phillips believes it is Charleville flyer Michael Purcell who could take the competition by storm.
Having run the New York Marathon as a 17-year-old under Robert De Castella's The Marathon Project in 2011, Purcell has been chosen on the bench against Norths and given a simple mandate.
"He's a fullback/winger but in our team he's out there to score tries so it doesn't matter where he goes. His position is try-scorer for our team," said Phillips.
"He has done long-distance running and is just a freak of an athlete who can play football.
"He's got instinctive footy skills and I can't wait to get him out there."
Other Round 1 action of the Intrust Super Cup sees the Tonwsville Blackhawks hosting Redcliffe, Mackay taking on the CQ Capras, 2014 champions Northern Pride travel to the Sunshine Coast to play the Falcons, Wynnum host Burleigh, Tweeds Heads face Easts Tigers and Souths Logan meet the PNG Hunters at Davies Park.