'As good as Alfie'
THE IPSWICH Jets will welcome polarising five-eighth Todd Carney and his Northern Pride outfit to North Ipswich Reserve tomorrow.
But despite the former Dally M Medallist's pedigree, he could very well be considered the fourth-best half on the park.
Carney's halves partner Jake Clifford has set the Intrust Super Cup alight through four rounds, and leads the competition point-scoring table by a considerable margin.
Following a 14-point solo effort against Mackay, Clifford now sits 14 points clear of the Jets' own point-scoring machine, Wes Conlon.
Clifford's opposite number in the green and white is Julian Christian.
The fleet-footed number six leads the Jets in try assists this season, and has already drawn praise from his teammates for his ability to make players miss.
But co-coach Ben Walker would like to see more than just flashy offence from his talented half.
"Julian is playing at probably 50% of his ability," Walker said.
"His attack is very good, but his defence is very bad. It's something we know he can do, he has enormous ability, but in order to fulfil that ability he needs to be producing a 100% game.
"His attack will never be questioned, but in order to go to that next level he'll have to start contributing defensively. He certainly has an enormous amount of ability."
Christian's halves partner, former captain Dane Phillips, has continued to wow the competition with his precision short-kicking game.
Phillips' deft touch around the in-goal has drawn high praise from his co-coaches.
"I was fortunate enough to play with Alf, who has the best short-kicking game I've ever seen," Ben Walker said.
"Alf was the best, but Dane is absolutely first-class. His kicking game has always been important for us. If you've got the best there, just give it to him and let him execute."
Brother Shane went one step further with his praise.
"Our opinion is that he's probably got the best short-kicking game in both the NRL and Intrust Super Cup inside that 10m zone - he's lethal," Shane said.
"His control in tight spaces and the shortness of his kick is a big strength. It's quite possibly better (than Alfie)."
No matter which side of the fence Phillips sits, in the eyes of his coaches, the former Jets skipper will need to play a key role if they are to take the points against second-placed Pride tomorrow.
"We haven't seen much of them (Pride) just yet, all we know is they're playing well," Ben said.
"Their young halfback (Clifford) is causing some trouble for them, and obviously Carney is a threat.
"But where we are right now, we're in a really good space. We have a ripping team, a good group of guys, and we're not at all worried about who we play against, just turning up and doing our job."
Each week it seems a new Jet puts their hand up and announces themselves to teammates and the rest of the competition.
Former Gold Coast Titans hooker Kierran Moseley commanded play in the Jets' round two win against the Blackhawks.
Against Easts, Ben Shea showed he had lost nothing since coming across from Wynnum in a man-of-the-match performance.
In Rockhampton on Thursday night, it was youngster Denzel Burns who hit the highlight reel.
The 18-year-old dived for the in-goal, latching onto a bouncing grubber and placing it down to score in-bounds.
"It was a special try," Ben said.
"For a guy on debut to control it and put it down inside the goal . . . we've had thoughts of having him down here for a couple of years. It's great we finally got him here and he's realising his potential."
Burns will retain his place on the wing, with Marmin Barba still sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Wes Conlon dislocated his finger in the 28-18 loss to the Capras, but is expected to be ready to play against the Pride.
"We've got a good sprinkling this year of really talented kids, and some older guys who have had success," Ben said.
"We have a ripping team, with varying experiences, but everyone brings something."
In Ben's eyes, oppositions teams must strategise to stop the Jets, and not vice-versa.
"(Pride) will be the same as every team we play," he said. "They'll have to play well to be competitive with us, we're playing some good footy.
"We've started off terrific, we're two wins two losses, but we could quite easily have won all of them.
"We're still a long way from finals. It's all about getting enough wins on the board and improving along the way."
Intrust Super Cup Rd 5
Tomorrow (3pm) Ipswich Jets v Northern Pride at North Ipswich Reserve.