Kiwi sprouting wings for Jets
AUCKLAND'S loss was Ipswich's gain when Jets prop Nat Neale chose to head across the Tasman Sea at the end of last season.
Neale lives in Springfield Lakes and works for Mini-Movers, though he is an electrician by trade.
It might have been his commitment to getting his trade that cost him a shot at the big time in the NRL with the Auckland Warriors.
“I was a little bit off (a shot in the NRL),” Neale said.
“I'm not too sure.
“I was on the cusp but not close enough.
“I probably didn't take my opportunities.
“I think I chose my apprenticeship over my footy.”
Neale didn't get a chance with the top squad in the two years he was contracted to the Warriors (2008-09). So at the end of last season, he sent his resume to a heap of Australian clubs.
“Ipswich was the first club that gave me a chance,” he said.
Neale moved, with his girlfriend, to a house in Churchill in November, which subsequently went under water in the January floods, prompting his move to Springfield Lakes.
Things on the field have gone much smoother, with Neale establishing himself in the Jets top squad with his incredible workrate in defence.
It hasn't been hard for the 104kg, 185cm Kiwi to fit in, and that's not just because there are a number of his countrymen at the club.
“The best thing about the Jets is the club culture,” Neale said.
The reason behind that culture, which was obviously on the nose last season with players walking out on the club mid-contract, is the new head coaches Ben and Shane Walker.
“The Walker boys are awesome coaches,” Neale said.
“Just the way they approach it.
“It's like a breath of fresh air.”
If there is one aspect of Neale's game he admits needs improving, it is being more vocal calling for hit-ups.
“Demanding the ball a bit more in attack,” he said.
But it is his defence that stands out in a team with the third best defensive record in the competition.
While he has found his niche off the bench, Neale is capable of playing 80 minutes and when he does, he can be expected to make upwards of 50 tackles.
“We had quite a big emphasis on line speed at the start of the season,” he explained.
“I think that's helped us quite a bit.”
The Aucklander believes he is a much better footballer now than the one who left the land of the long white cloud last year.
“I've gained heaps since I've been here,” he said.
“Across the board.”
Neale still holds out hopes of one day playing NRL, but knows the best way to achieve that is to taste success with the Jets first.
“The big goal would be to get a (NRL) contract somewhere,” he said.
“But first I just want to play good footy and make the finals.
“We've got the money to get there because everyone wants to play for everyone else.”
When not working, playing footy or training, Nat Neale will be found spending time with girlfriend Ariana.
Ariana will have a big say on how long Neale remains in Australia.
“It depends on her, I think,” Neale said.
“She's the boss.
“She misses home a bit.”
There is one thing in particular the big prop misses about his native land.
“I miss the dog,” he said.
That's Boo, the English bull terrier/Staffordshire terrier cross.