Jets on red alert with Qld Cup lead on offer
IF THE Ipswich Jets return from Cairns on Sunday leading the Queensland Cup ladder, they will have earnt it.
The Jets head north to take on competition leaders Northern Pride at Barlow Park.
Ipswich is chasing its eighth win in succession but coach Ben Walker expects his team to face its stiffest challenge yet.
"They're the best team we've played clearly," Walker said.
"We beat them in the first round but I think they've improved. We have, no doubt.
"So it's a genuine top-of-the table clash."
The Jets have a poor record in Cairns, winning just one of the past six there.
But Walker is certain there will be no lack of belief from his team on Sunday.
If the mission wasn't daunting enough for the Jets, they will face a bigger than normal crowd as the match doubles as the curtain-raiser to the Gold Coast Titans versus South Sydney Rabbitohs National Rugby League match.
"They're very structured," Walker said of the Pride.
"With a monster forward pack and experienced backs. They're pretty much at full strength."
So close does he expect it to be that Walker could not nominate where he hoped Ipswich would find an edge.
"We'll play the way we do," he said. "We know how they play.
"We won't do anything different to what we normally do."
It will take a complete performance to be in with a shot come full-time.
"Every try will be earnt and we don't give tries away," Walker said. "It's going to be a pretty close tussle. I couldn't pin-point where we can get them.
"We'll have to work pretty hard to get it."
The only change in the Jets' line-up from last week is the return of Donald Malone at centre for Luke Pollock.
Malone is one try short of the club try-scoring record of 64, held by Ricky Bird.
Slade King gets a second successive start off the bench, despite not being in the Jets FOGS Cup squad since early in the season.
"We brought Slade to the club in 2010 as an unknown from Burleigh," Walker said.
"Every time we've used him in first grade, he's done exactly what we've asked.
"If we asked him to run through a brick wall, he would."
Walker denied Slade's selection ahead of any FOGS Cup forwards is a reflection of how the Reserve grade team was performing.
"No, not at all," Walker said.
"He's a first grader."
Nor did he think it would cause any player dissatisfaction in the lower grade team.
"The boys will understand why he's in the team," Walker said.
"For what we need, he'll do the job."
Another who has been doing the job is first-season Jet Rod Griffin.
The former Pride, Tweed Heads and Papua New Guinea forward has steadily improved this season, producing his best display for Ipswich in last week's win over Sunshine Coast.
"Hopefully he takes that form up there," Walker said. "It takes a bit of time because we play a lot differently to most cubs.
"Javarn (White) and Kurtis (Lingwoodock) took a bit of time last year. But he knows what to do now."
Queensland Cup: Ipswich Jets v Northern Pride on Sunday at Barlow Park, Cairns at 11.45am.