THE Ipswich Jets coaches have had one of their Christmas wishes come true.
The squad has emerged from its first period of pre-season training having exceeded the expectations of Ben Walker and his brother Shane.
The players have returned fit and the competition to replace retired five-eighth Brendon Lindsay, which was shaping as the Walker brothers' biggest headache for 2013, is strong.
The Jets broke up on December 19 and will resume their pre-season training on January 7.
"Really pleased," was how co-coach Ben Walker described the work the players have done so far.
"They all came back in better shape than in the past two years.
It means we're able to put some more work into them because most know what is going on.
Particularly pleasing for Walker was the condition that Jets' big men Tyson Alofipo and 2012 best-and-fairest Nat Neale returned in following their off-season break.
"It's enabled us to get through our fitness sessions a lot better," Walker said.
"We don't have to spend so much time getting them fit so we can spend more time working on skills and other stuff.
"The competitive aspect has gone up a notch as well because they know what to expect."
One player to catch the eye of the coach has been utility Sam Martin, who stamped himself as a must-pick, at either centre of back-row for the Jets in 2012.
"Sam Martin is looking really good," Walker said.
"He's a quality player and I think 2013 is his year to really stand out."
Of the newcomers to the club, Walker has been impressed most by former Souths Logan and Easts half Dane Phillips.
"He's looking good," Walker said.
"He's a half or five-eighth we have watched for years and we're pleased he's with us.
"Losing BL (Lindsay) and his experience it is important whoever comes in has a good kicking game and Dane has."
It is too early to say who will fill Lindsay's boots in 2013 but at this stage Phillips and young star Sam Parcell appear to be the frontrunners.
"Sam impressed us last year," Walker said. "He's been training well with the colts."
Another prospect is last year's colts halfback Chris Ash, who was his team's best until getting injured mid-season.
"He's come through the under 20s and has really impressed," Walker said.
"He's been training with the top grade for a couple of years.
We're pretty right for the ball-playing positions.