Jets 100 game footballer's valuable role after forced exit
FORMER NRL player Ian Lacey recalls the anxiety he endured when a neck injury playing for the Ipswich Jets forced his retirement.
It was during Lacey's 100th and final game for the club that his football career suddenly ended after a tackle in the 2013 Queensland Cup semi-final in Mackay.
"I really felt the spinal cord move in my neck,'' Lacey said.
"It was just an awkward tackle and my whole left side of my body went numb.''
The former Broncos hooker knew then and there it was time to hang up the boots.
However, his forced retirement did little to diminish his passion for the game and eagerness to help the Indigenous community.
That's why he helped launch the Deadly Choices program a decade ago with current Jets coach Keiron Lander. It has since become a national program with a positive record of health outcomes involving sport.
Lacey's willingness to help rugby league in the region remains another reason he offered to coach the Ipswich Indigenous All-Stars team in the March 6 showpiece match against the Ipswich All-Stars.
"My playing days were well behind me,'' Lacey said. "But I wouldn't mind coaching the team so I'm happy to help out in any shape or form.''
After scoring 47 tries and 188 points following his Jets debut in 2008, Lacey hopes the March 6 game can become a regular event on the Rugby League Ipswich (RLI) calendar.
After accepting the role last year, Lacey has been working with regional footballers like Corey Kirk and RLI chairman Gary Parker.
"It's a good concept that they are trying to get established and up and running and this can only be really good for Ipswich; ideally if they can make this an annual event,'' Lacey said.
"It's another game of footy but it has got a lot of meaning behind it and just creates that really good community interaction, which is the goal.''
Lacey's coaching counterpart guiding the Ipswich All-Stars side is fittingly Scott Ireland.
They played together for the Jets, including in the 2008 grand final team.
"I carried Scottie at the Jets when he first played there,'' Lacey joked.
"I was the left side half and he was the left side winger.''
Based at Seventeen Mile Rocks, Lacey still has strong ties to the Ipswich area.
He said his Ipswich Indigenous All-Stars team was yet to be finalised, wanting to adopt the right approach with the Ipswich competition clubs.
"At the moment, I'm just guided by Corey Kirk and the committee,'' Lacey said.
"The latest advice was they were just waiting for all of the teams to get back to training and working closely with the club presidents just to get a detailed list of who will be available.
"So we just make sure it's an inclusive sort of arrangement so we are not missing anyone out.
"Probably in the next week or two, we'll go through the process of nutting down a squad to play in the game.''
Lacey appreciated having the contribution of Indigenous footballers recognised.
"Ipswich rugby league and the greater Ipswich region has a very rich history of Indigenous participation in the game,'' he said.
"And you look back over the years through local league and into the Jets system, there has been plenty of players that have come through those systems and contributed to the sport.
"I know it's an initiative that has been really well received in Toowoomba.
"I know they have been doing it for quite a few years now and it's just a great initiative to get some community involvement and just build up a bit of anticipation leading into a year of rugby league.''
Lacey coached the Jets Colts team in 2014, the first year after he retired.
He sees his latest coaching appointment as more of an organiser.
"This game is a one-off event,'' he said. "There's not much coaching.
"My involvement is just to help try and make sure that it's a successful event.
"There is plenty of things that will happen on and off the field that will go a long way to make this an annual event.''
That includes a Friday night dinner and raising funds to give back to local clubs.
"I think that's a wonderful initiative in the current environment that we are all navigating our way through with COVID and the economic impact it is having on rugby league in general.
"The more that we can help out these clubs from a grassroots perspective, it's only going to be better for them to not have that burden on their shoulders - to try and get teams into the local comp moving up through the year.''
Lacey is pleased to see the Ipswich Jets involved in the gala day, playing an Intrust Super Cup trial against PNG Hunters and an under-21 trial against the Western Mustangs.
"Any initiative like this that is going to bring Ipswich rugby league and elements of the Jets together is only going to be good for rugby league in Ipswich,'' he said.
"An initiative like this helps the building blocks to get some more really good community interaction.''
Lacey's 100 match milestone for the Jets came after he made his first grade debut for the Brisbane Broncos in 2006.
The hooker went on to represent the Broncos in 23 games.
He also had a stint with the Gold Coast Titans before his NRL dream was over.
Before retiring, he played for the Queensland Murri representative side in 2012. That was against USA Tomahawks where the Murri's won 72-18 at Kaiser Stadium.
Despite his last game setback at the Jets, Lacey enjoyed in Ipswich colours.
"It's a good club,'' Lacey said.
"My father (Robert) played for the Jets back in '84.
"I was born in Inala so I've always been around that sort of western corridor, Ipswich corridor.
"My time at the Jets, I really enjoyed. It's a really family-orientated club.
"It's not the richest club in Queensland Cup but it has some really good values and there's very good people there.''