Pandia overcomes struggles in dominant season
IPSWICH Jets chairman Steve Johnson has hailed Sebastian Pandia's incredible 2018 Intrust Super Cup season, after the third-year forward finished a narrow runner-up to Nat Neale in the club's best and fairest voting on Saturday night.
Pandia was leading the Allan Langer Medal count on 44 votes when he injured his knee against the Blackhawks in round 18.
With the former PNG Hunters captain sidelined for the rest of the season, Neale took the lead in the penultimate match of the season and went on to win by two votes.
As Neale took top honours, Pandia was named 'best forward'.
"It wasn't like previous years where Nat has been leading the whole way,” Johnson said.
"Sebastian was leading when he blew out his knee. Nat came home in the game against the Blackhawks - when he was outstanding - and pipped Seb, 46 to 44.”
In four fewer games, Pandia improved on his 2017 metres gained total and nearly doubled his number of tackle breaks.
In a dour struggle against the Hunters in round 15, it was Pandia who broke the deadlock against his former side - recording a remarkable 15 tackle breaks and a try to will the Jets home in a must-win contest.
It was just one of many complete performances from Pandia, who celebrates his 28th birthday today.
"When he first came to the club, he had to sit out that first year,” Johnson recalled of Pandia's 2015.
"Then in '16 he came in, but Sebastian never quite got to where they expected he would.”
Johnson said Pandia's down 2016 season needed to be examined through the proper lens.
Dealing with a string of setbacks both on and off the field, it was tough to expect too much of a player who had also been forced to sit out a season.
"He's had to deal with some real disappointments . . . and the Kumuls not picking him because of his decision to leave the Hunters when he was captain,” Johnson said.
"Having sat out that year, it would have been hard for anyone to come straight back.
"I think he tried too hard to be the leader of the young (forward pack). But then in '17 and now '18, he's grown into his role at the club and this year was outstanding at everything he did.”
Although the Jets' late-season charge into the finals coincided with Pandia's absence, Johnson said that spoke to the depth at the club - of which Pandia has had a key role in nurturing - not the PNG international's lay-off.
"We've got some young boys who will be better for the year - they'll be better for playing with men of the calibre of Seb, Nat and Benny Shea,” Johnson said.
"Young players get that confidence by playing with genuine, hard-nosed men who have done it before and keep challenging themselves.
"That's the beauty of those three men. None of them say much, they just roll the sleeves up, get the job done, and teach the boys about resilience and not giving up.”
"Resilience” is Pandia's middle name.
Remarkably, he had made an almost full recovery from his ACL injury by the time the Jets travelled to take on Easts in their semi-final defeat.
Johnson recalled a wrestling session with Keiron Lander at training that week, in which Pandia lasted "more than 10 minutes” before he felt any pain at all in the injured knee.
The normal turnaround for an ACL injury is six to nine months.
Pandia was ready to play after 10 weeks.
"He could have played against Easts, or even after,” Johnson said.
"Then he told us he did an ACL in PNG on the other leg, but because he couldn't get treatment for it, he just trained hard and got over it.
"I've never seen anything like it.”