'He's the most consistent big forward I have ever seen'
Rugby League: In 2011, Ipswich Jets chairman Steve Johnson took a call from a friend in New Zealand.
He told Johnson of a young, talented forward out of Auckland with "the world's biggest motor” and a penchant for offloads.
"We think he can play footy” said the scout from across the Tasman.
Seven years later, Johnson calls the decision to fly Nat Neale over ahead of the 2011 Intrust Super Cup season as "one of the best things” the Jets ever did.
On Saturday night, Neale claimed his fourth Allan Langer Medal - second in a row - as the Jets' fairest and best player for season 2018.
"He's just an incredible athlete and mentally tough man,” Johnson said of Neale.
"It's no coincidence that he's won that medal on numerous occasions as part of very good teams.”
The Jets chairman labelled Neale "the most consistent big forward I've seen in my life”, and hailed the 30-year-old's leadership qualities as an underrated aspect to his game.
"Nat came to us sight-unseen. Now he's head and shoulders above every other forward in the comp,” Johnson said.
"Seasoned NRL players, and even some blokes that have played for their country . . . he leads his team of 'no-names' against NRL packs each week and dominates them.
"Big forwards, they normally play in bursts, but Nat just doesn't stop.”
After dominating with the Jets for three seasons, Neale signed a one-year deal with the Rabbitohs and debuted in round three of the 2014 NRL season.
It was the first and last time Neale graced an NRL field - something Johnson is still "dumbfounded” by.
"How he wasn't picked up at the end of his Rabbitohs contract by another club leaves me dumbfounded,” Johnson said.
Neale's on-field exploits are well-known both in and out of the Jets' four walls.
But if there was ever any doubt over his leadership qualities, Johnson said the skipper's acceptance speech put those to bed.
"When they made him captain, Nat just lead by example,” Johnson said.
"He's like (former Jets captain) Danny Coburn - he doesn't have to say a word, he just looks at a player and you know they'll lift.
"He gave one of the great Nat Neale speeches (on Saturday night) . . . banging his big chest as he said it with real emotion.
"He said: 'To all you young fellas, without this BRL side we need you to stay at the club. You need to keep challenging me. The young fellas have to push us, and we have to lift to keep you out. But there ain't no way you're getting my spot'.”
"If I was a young fella, I would have started training the next morning.”
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