Jacks exhibiting Cronk-like control over Falcons
He speaks to the coach during the week from 1,700 kilometres away and has only one training session a week with his team but such has been the development of Ryley Jacks this season that Sunshine Coast Falcons captain Dane Hogan has compared his influence to that of Cooper Cronk.
After sitting sideline for the Storm's preliminary final clash with the Broncos on Friday night Jacks will on Saturday fly to the Sunshine Coast to join his Falcons teammates for their final run through prior to Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final against the PNG Hunters at Suncorp Stadium.
A former Queensland under-18s representative who played 49 NYC games for the Sydney Roosters in 2011-2012, Jacks played one season for the Newtown Jets before returning to Queensland, first signing with the Easts Tigers and then joining the Burleigh Bears with the hope of earning an NRL call-up with the Titans.
Last year he joined the Falcons and earned not only the club's player of the year award but a one-year contract with the Melbourne Storm, the 25-year-old making his NRL debut in Round 1 and playing 12 top-grade games this season.
When he hasn't been turning out for the Storm Jacks has been flying to the Sunshine Coast to take charge of the Falcons' premiership push and was central to their dominant 40-14 win over Redcliffe in last Sunday's preliminary final.
"He was a great calibre of player last year but you can tell since he's gone down into the Melbourne Storm system and getting all those NRL games at the start of the year has been amazing for his confidence," said Falcons skipper Dane Hogan.
"What he brings back you could compare to Cooper Cronk for what he's doing at Melbourne down there.
"He just comes back and steers the ship around really well. Everyone knows their jobs outside him so it makes it a lot easier."
Falcons coach Craig Ingebrigtsen was in charge last season when Jacks was with the team full-time and judged to be the team's best player but says the exposure to an NRL system combined with the confidence that invariably comes from performing well at that level has elevated his game even further.
"He's changed tremendously," Ingebrigtsen told NRL.com. "He's become a complete footballer, Ryley.
"Defensively his stats are still No.1 in the NRL as a defensive six, he's done a great job. He's played 12 games this year which is outstanding and we're all really proud of him.
"It is skill development but it's also mental application from Ryley, to know that he can do it and know not to be apprehensive about his role.
"We speak a lot during the week about different things and he really buys in from a coaching perspective as well so you know you've got him on side.
"Last week he was easily the best player on the field. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and that's something that Ryley didn't do a lot last year.
"He had young [Alex] Bishop having to do a lot of the controlling of the game but he's done a fantastic job the last month."
As they have been all season, the Falcons will be bolstered on the eve of the game by an influx of Storm-contracted players such as Jacks with hooker Brandon Smith, back-rower Joe Stimson and prop Tui Kamikamica all starring in the preliminary final.
And despite the disruption of only having key playmakers for one training session a week, Hogan insists it won't be used as an excuse if they can't conquer the Hunters on Sunday.
"It is tough having our spine down in Melbourne and coming up for captain's runs but that's no excuse on Sunday because they've been coming up for the majority of the year now," Hogan said.
"It took a few games to get us going but the back-end of the year has been unreal.
"The majority of this year we've been playing for 50-60 minutes in good patches but against Redcliffe on the weekend was probably our best 80-minute performance of the year.
"That's obviously good momentum leading into the grand final."