Jets throw AJ a lifeline
FORMER Reds flanker AJ Gilbert is set to start a new life as a father and a footballer after signing a two-year deal with the Ipswich Jets.
After the Reds declined to re-sign him at the end of 2008 the 22-year-old was in limbo last season and without a professional contract.
Gilbert then returned home to play bush league in New South Wales after partner Katy fell pregnant.
That’s when the Jets offered him a lifeline.
“I was playing club rugby for Souths last year when Katy fell pregnant,” Gilbert said.
“At the time the lease on our house had run out and our plan was to go back home and have the baby down there.
“That is when my old rugby league club Bellingen/Dorrigo asked me to come down and play and everything started to fall into place. Word got around that I was playing league and the Jets came knocking on the door.”
Gilbert signed a two-year deal with Ipswich and before playing a match the Titans invited the versatile back-rower to join their 2010 pre-season training squad.
“I see myself as a professional footy player and I wanted to get back into that,” Gilbert said.
“Jets training has been really good and to spend a couple of weeks training with the Titans before Christmas was really refreshing. It made me realise how much I missed being in that sort of environment.
“My initial goal is to play well with the Jets and hopefully higher honours will come if I am playing well enough.”
Growing up in Dorrigo, Gilbert played representative rugby league and rugby union and was forced to make a choice at 17.
“I had to pick one and at that stage I wanted to travel and rugby offered those opportunities to go overseas,” he said.
“I ended up making the Australian under 19s and my career took off after we won the World Cup in 2006 in Dubai. Then I got picked in the Australian Sevens side and was picked up by the Reds.
“By the time I’d turned 20 I’d been to Dubai, Paris, London, New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Argentina - all over the world.”
Now Gilbert has chosen league because it offers the opportunity to restart a professional career from a home base at Raceview close to family.
“I had a couple of opportunities to go overseas. I was looking at options of going to Japan, Europe and New Zealand, but starting a young family I didn’t want to be so far away from my parents and Katy’s parents,” he said.
“We wanted to have that support base around us with the little one coming along. We are about to have a little girl and she is due on February 4. We are booked into the Ipswich Hospital so everything is sorted.
“I am really happy with the decision I made and I am really happy at the Jets.”
Gilbert is another quality player the Queensland Reds have let slip through the net. He was not bitter when asked what went wrong, more bemused.
“There was a bit of a miscommunication,” Gilbert admitted.
“They gave me the indication that they were re-signing me at the end of 2008 and because I am a loyal sort of person I didn’t really look anywhere else. Then at the last minute they pulled the pin on me and by that stage it was too late to look anywhere else.
“But I enjoyed my time at the Reds and there are no hard feelings.”