Chairman backs Cleeland, Jets to reprise 2015 form
STEVE Johnson believes the Ipswich Jets boast a squad "as good as in 2015” and has backed a key player of that premiership-winning campaign to make his presence felt this season.
When the Jets hoisted the Queensland Cup trophy at Suncorp Stadium four years ago, Josh Cleeland was an integral cog in Ben and Shane Walker's all-conquering green and white machine.
Cleeland departed weeks later for Cronulla, before a two-year stint at Canterbury-Bankstown where he was a head-scratching omission from the Bulldogs' NRL side despite continually impressing in the Intrust Super Premiership.
Now the star half is back in Ipswich, albeit against the wishes of Johnson and the Jets.
"It's a travesty he isn't playing First Grade at the Dogs,” Johnson said of Cleeland.
"We didn't want him back. We wanted Josh in the NRL where he belongs. (But) he's come back with the best attitude you can imagine, and he's in for a stellar year.
"Ben and Shane will devise a number of play around Josh where he'll be able to be at his sparkling best.”
Another boost for the Jets ahead of Sunday's season opener against 2015 grand final rivals the Townsville Blackhawks, is a fully fit and firing Billy McConnachie.
"Madness” missed the bulk of 2018 through injury, and it was no coincidence his return mid-way through the campaign coincided with the Jets' winning run into the finals.
"We're in for an exciting year,” Johnson said.
"Since Ben and Shane have coached at our club, we've been in the top eight every year. We'll be there in September, and injuries permitting we'll really give it a shake this year.
"We have a side as good as in 2015.”
Johnson implored Jets fans to get to North Ipswich Reserve on Sunday to support what has become one of the bigger days on the Intrust Super Cup calendar.
"It's a special day for Ipswich and the Blackhawks, sharing the same military connection that we do,” he said.
"It's more than a game of football. (Defence Force Appreciation Day) is a valid recognition of the contribution to the community our servicemen and women provide.
"We're proud we've been given the opportunity to host this event by the Blackhawks.”