Jets speedster flips finals race on head
JAYDEN Connors received a text from former NRL star Nathan Blacklock before his Intrust Super Cup debut for the Ipswich Jets, then went out and played like the former Dragon.
In his Cup debut the 22-year-old set up two tries, scored two and performed a memorable backflip to celebrate a try that would have made Blacklock proud.
Connors inspired the Jets to a 32-22 win over the Northern Pride to keep Ipswich's finals hopes alive.
With the Townsville Blackhawks losing to Burleigh, the Jets are just two points out of the top six.
Connors hails from Tingha, the small town in NSW that produced Blacklock, Preston Campbell and Owen Craigie.
In his pomp, Blacklock was the backflip king of the NRL in cahoots with Anthony Mundine, so it was appropriate Connors replicated the entertainment factor that his mate from Tingha once showcased at the highest level.
"It is something that I learned back at school where Nathan and Preston both went, so it was something I did to get the crowd involved when I celebrated the try,” he told the QT after the win.
"Nathan messaged me this morning and said 'good luck and rip in'.
"I don't get really nervous, just more excited than anything. I had a lack of sleep during the week thinking about it. But I calmed down the day before the game because my mum and dad were up here.
"I've been playing for the Jets in the BRL where there is a bit is on your shoulders and you have to create something out of nothing.
"But with these Cup boys you just let them roll and play off the back of it.
"Ben and Shane (Walker) said 'just go out and play footy and enjoy it'.”
Connors played hooker in attack and defended on the wing as a 16-year-old for the Tingha Tigers in A grade in Group 19, but not at this level.
Connors scored a try from a scoot from dummy half and another after backing up Luke Capewell.
Co-coach Ben Walker said it was a stunning display by the debutant who was also named player's player.
"It was his Queensland Cup debut, he scores two and sets up two . . . including the last try to confirm the win,” Walker marvelled.
"And he does the 'Tingha' backflip as well, so he's had a day out. If you can't do the Tingha backflip, and you are from Tingha, you can't play apparently. That must be one of the prerequisites. It was spectacular.
"We nicknamed him 'Tricky' Trindall and he is small little bloke but well built. He is as fast as anyone over 10 metres and has plenty of skill,” Walker said.
"Like any Indigenous kid from Tingha, he has football smarts.''
The try Connors set up in the first half showcased those talents. "He threw a beautiful cut-out from left to right which not many dudes would think about throwing, least of all in their first game,” Walker said.
"He had the confidence, of which he has ample, to come out of dummy half and ripped a left to right face ball to Richard Pandia to score in the corner.
"Then he set up another one at the end for Nemani. It was as good a debut as I have ever seen in the Queensland Cup without a doubt.
"We defended him on the wing which is very foreign to him, and we had him attack in the middle as a hooker.
"He was marking a six foot two (inch) winger and they put a cross-kick to him at one stage. He realised he couldn't get over the top of him so he just let the bloke catch it and tackled him over the sideline.
"A lot of kids, especially on their debut, would have gone up for it and been no chance. But he knew what he had to do.”
Blacklock was known for his somersaults and back- flips but Walker said he had also seen Campbell and Craigie do them when he played against them in the NRL.
"I have seen Craigie at 110 kilos doing a standing backflip,” he grinned.
Ipswich play PNG Hunters on Saturday, needing another victory to narrow the gap on Townsville.
Points: PNG 33, Sunshine Coast 31, Redcliffe 30, Easts 29, Souths-Logan 28, Townsville 26, Ipswich 24, Mackay 22, Wynnum-Manly 20, Burleigh 18, Norths 16, Northern Pride 12, Tweed Heads 12, CQ 11.
Ipswich Jets 32 (Jayden Connors 2, Michael Purcell 2, Nemani Valekapa, Richard Pandia tries; Luke Capewell 4 goals) def Northern Pride 22 (Marcus Jensen, Javid Bowen, Shawn Bowen, Bradley Stephen tries; Jordan Biondi-Ondo 3 goals) at North Ipswich Reserve.