Flame burning bright for Chris Ash
FOR almost five years Chris Ash has played for the Ipswich Jets, either in Colts or Reserve grade.
In that time he has watched former under-age teammates such as Josh Cleeland, Josh Seage, Matt Parcell and, this weekend, Pat McCallum make their debuts in the top grade.
All the while he has worked hard and applied himself, patiently waiting for a similar opportunity.
Which is why he is delighted to be going with the Jets this weekend to play Papua New Guinea in Kokopo, even if it is as the 18th man.
Tomorrow the second placed Jets take on the third placed Hunters at arguably their weakest this season.
The Jets have been blessed by a low injury count this season but this weekend they will have to do without five of their top squad, though none are injured.
Prop Kurtis Lingwoodock, forward Liam Capewell and utility Troy O'Sullivan won't make the trip due to personal commitments.
Form centre Nemani Valekapa isn't going either.
His Fijian passport won't prevent him getting into PNG, but his visa means he wouldn't be able to get back into Australia from PNG.
Brandon McGrady won't be going either, because he hasn't got a passport.
In their place centre Richard Pandia and winger Pat McCallum are set to debut.
Prop Joe Ofahengaue returns to Jets duties from the Brisbane Broncos and Ash is the spare man, should anything go wrong.
"I'm not expecting anything at all because I'm 18th man," Ash said.
"It will still be a good experience to be a part of it all."
Ash is Ipswich through and through.
He is a Brothers junior, owns a house in Basin Pocket and teaches at St Peter Claver College.
It is part of the reason he has no complaints about waiting in the lower grades for the opportunity that appears so close this weekend.
"It's tough sometimes," Ash admitted.
"Especially when you see other boys go to other clubs and get a shot at (Queensland) Cup."
But there is one thing other than just loyalty keeping Ash at the Jets - enjoyment.
"If I wasn't happy here I'd go," he said.
"I don't think I'd have come as far as I have without Ben and Shane (Jets head coaches Ben and Shane Walker).
"It has been tough the past few years waiting."
Ash knows however, that all he needs is an opening and, like Parcell, Cleeland and the others, he could soon be a top grade regular.
It was about this time last year Cleeland got his shot in the top grade when Haydan Lipp was injured.
Cleeland took his chance and is now the form five-eighth of the Queensland Cup.
If Ash gets his opportunity he is confident he knows what is required.
He is halfback and vice-captain of the Brisbane Rugby League ladder leading Jets team, which takes its lead from the top grade side in terms of the way it plays its football.
The Jets Reserves have the most points for and fewest against in the competition.
"It's going to be tough, obviously," he said of the looming clash with the Hunters.
"But we've been playing like that in the BRL.
"We're the top attacking team by 50 points and the top defending team by 50 points because other teams just can't handle it."
The Jets' unpredictable style across both grades means all players have to be ready at all times for the possibility the ball will come their way.
So Ash will be ready, should the chance arrive.
"I'll just try and do the little things right," he said.
"No mistakes and don't let the boys down."
And if he doesn't get a game tomorrow Ash will continue doing what he has done for the past five years - work hard and wait patiently until the opportunity arises.
Ipswich Jets: 1 Carlin Anderson, 2 Marmin Barba, 3 Chris Walker, 4 Richard Pandia, 5 Pat McCallum, 6 Josh Cleeland, 7 Dane Phillips, 8 Josh Seage, 9 Landon Hayes, 10 Rod Griffin, 11 Sam Martin, 12 Kurt Capewell, 13 Keiron Lander, 14 Fakahoko Teutau, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Billy McConnachie, 17 Gerico Cecil, 18 Chris Ash.
- Ipswich Jets v PNG Hunters at Kokopo (tomorrow, 2.30pm). The Jets are chasing a club record-equalling sixth win in a row. They lost 40-22 on their trip to PNG last year. The Hunters are unbeaten at home this year, winning all four.
- FOGS Colts and BRL competitions have bye.