GOOD CHOICE: Josh Cleeland’s decision to return to the Ipswich Rugby League with Swifts this season was vindicated when he won the Player-of-the-Year and People’s Choice awards on Saturday.
GOOD CHOICE: Josh Cleeland’s decision to return to the Ipswich Rugby League with Swifts this season was vindicated when he won the Player-of-the-Year and People’s Choice awards on Saturday. Sarah Harvey

Step back sees Josh fourish

AN HONEST self-appraisal and admission of his shortcomings led to Swifts five-eighth Josh Cleeland taking out the Ipswich Rugby League A grade player-of-the-year award.

Cleeland collected the honour at the IRL presentation night at the North Ipswich Reserve on Saturday.

He also won the People's Choice award.

The People's Choice award was voted for by the public, on-line, with Cleeland pipping Goodna's Willie Oloitoa by just nine votes.

"I didn't see the Player of the Year Award coming," Cleeland said, as the two trophies sat on the dinner table in front of him.

"But I was watching this one (People's Choice award)."

The awards vindicated the former West End junior and Ipswich Jets Colt's decision to join Swifts this season.

"It's been alright so far," he said of his year with the Bluebirds, who finished second in the minor premiership.

"But there's still a long way to go. I feel like I can last 80 minutes now. But I'm still not where I want to be."

Cleeland weighs 94kg but is aiming to get to 86kg for peak fitness.

It won't happen this footy season, but the fact he's lost 10kg this year proves he's on track.

His 2012 was spent recovering from a knee reconstruction after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament when he collided with the goalpost while scoring a try for the Ipswich Jets Colts.

Getting the knee right was one thing, returning to match fitness another altogether.

Cleeland returned to the Jets for the 2013 pre-season but had to admit defeat.

"I was spewing up every training session," he said.

"Every training session was harder and harder.

"I realised I couldn't handle it yet. So I thought I'd have a fun year playing with my cousins (at Swifts)."

The fun was yet to come when he made the decision.

It wasn't easy to admit to his failings, given his high expectations.

"It did hurt my pride," Cleeland said. "I want to come back (to the Jets) and see if I've still got it."

The evidence this year suggests he does still have it and Swifts' semi-final prospects rest on the young five-eighth's shoulders.

It is a lot of pressure but Cleeland can handle it.

Winning the two awards on Saturday has strengthened his self-belief further.

"It helps a lot," he said.

"Knowing people are watching me. I didn't think I'd get this in my first year back."

His desire to get back to the Jets and test himself at a higher level means this could be his only season with the Bluebirds.

He may not be where he wants to be just yet but Cleeland can be assured it has been worth it.

Major Winners

  • A Grade Player of the Year - Josh Cleeland Swifts).
  • A Grade People's Choice award: Josh Cleeland.
  • Representative player of the year: Jason Connors (Brothers).
  • Rookie of the year: Joel Lye (West End).
  • Coach of the year: Mick Newton (Norths under-18s)


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