The State Championship kicks off on Sunday as a mouth-watering entrée to the NRL main meal with this year’s battle of the NSW Cup premiers and the Queensland Cup premiers seeing Newcastle Knights take on the Ipswich Jets.

The long awaited match to determine which state based champion is in its second year after last year’s inaugural game saw the Northern Pride of Cairns beat the Penrith Panthers. Questions over the concept’s fan and viewer interest and whether the teams would take it seriously were answered emphatically last year.  This year’s match up will no doubt cement the idea for decades to come.

There are some similarities between the sides meeting this Sunday. Both of these teams did not finish in the top two after the regular season but both put together a terrific final campaign all the way to their respective premiership glory. Newcastle came from much further back than Ipswich, as the Knights were generously rewarded a final 8 spot after finishing 7th of 12 teams. But proving the finals are all about the finals and not the regular season they saw off Manly (6th), Penrith (3rd), Mounties (1st), and Wyong Roos (2nd) in the grand final 20-10.

Newcastle surprised the Wyong Roos at Parramatta in the final on Sunday to give the fans of the Hunter region something to cheer about as the top grade side won the wooden spoon in the NRL in 2015. The dominant performance of the Knights to win 20-10 belied the NSW Cup sides’ regular season results, and the form of the sides feeder clubs also as the Roos are a feeder club to NRL minor premiers Roosters.

The Knights who trailed early after a 10th minute Wyong Roos try, took a 14-4 lead into the break after the left hand attack of Kerrod Holland (Newcastle’s only representative in the NSW Cup side of the season as one of the centres) and winger Honeti Tuha terrorised the Roos defence with all three tries going down that corridor.

That left hand attack scored first after the break too, as Tuha completed his hat trick in the 52nd minutes, and put the game nearly out of reach for Wyong. The hot favourites for the title did hit back in the 68th minute through Nathan Smith’s second try, but it was not enough and the Knights got a chance to celebrate success in 2015.

Ipswich’s run to the Queensland Cup title was similar as it took in 4 straight wins, they beat both of last year’s Queensland Cup finalists Northern Pride (6th) and Easts Tigers (5th) , before knocking out the 2nd placed PNG Hunters the week before defeating the minor premiers Townsville Blackhawks in the final. The Jets had a better regular season record after finishing third overall of the 14 teams.

The Jets won their first ever Queensland Cup on Sunday at Suncorp Stadium and well deserving of their title as they outplayed a Townsville Blackhawks side that were minor premiers and the dominant side of 2015. A full match report is here – http://www.nothingbutleague.com/2015/09/28/jets-maiden-premiership-sends-landers-out-a-winner/

Where there are big differences is the level of experience between the sides. The Newcastle side feature the exciting Newcastle fullback Jake Mamo who ended as a top grade regular by the end of the season and a few other names will be recognised by those who follow the NRL, topped off with retiring Clint Newton who himself has 173 NRL games and 100 English Super League games under his belt. In all there’s well over 200 games combined experience in the Knights side. That experience has be one of the answers for the Knights stellar finals run, and a reason for the Knights starting favourites for the game.

But NRL experience isn’t everything as the Ipswich Jets have just 6 NRL starts to their tally, all of them for Broncos stand-in hooker Matt Parcell this year, however with the national exposure of the State Championship that number may rise in 2015 with some of the attacking talent on show.

The Jet’s attacking style has been of the big stories of the Queensland Cup this season, and they don’t do ordinary or normal as much as their NRL brothers. Talking of brothers, that’s the first quirk of the Jets as they have two brothers as co-coaches, and their style of coaching from the sideline in a position similar to a world football manager is something rarely seen in rugby league.

The Walker Brothers also encourage their players to make a play of they feel the urge, short kick offs, side to side to side movement, throwing the ball around 10 metres out from their own line are just a few of their potential plays on the weekend. I was present at one of their games where they returned the standard kick off straight away, reminiscent of an old fashioned kicking duel. No one expected it, certainly not the ball boy who struggled to get out of the way of the charging players. But it is hard to do their attacking style justice in words, you’ll just have to tune in to see what might happen.

It all shapes up as a great game and a good chance for some the Newcastle players to shine going into next year, and it gives the Ipswich Jets a platform to showcase a future way of playing rugby league to the world. A world that allows the play makers and fast men to be themselves with a minimum of tedious ruck wrestling. It also gives NSW something to cheer for given the top grade title is guaranteed to a Queensland side. Plenty of boxes ticked.

 

FINALS STATS:

ODDS:
Newcastle $1.73 Ipswich $2.10
Line – Newcastle -2.5 $1.90 Ipswich +2.5 $1.90

FINALS FORM:

NEWCASTLE
def Manly (6th) 45-6
def Penrith (3rd) 44-12
def Mounties (1st) 30-26
def Wyong Roos (2nd) 20-10

IPSWICH
def Northern Pride (6th) 54-26
def Easts Tigers (5th) 44-18
def PNG Hunters (2nd) 28-12
def Townsville Blackhawks (1st) 32-20

 

TEAMS:

Ipswich Jets: 1. Carlin Anderson 2. Marmin Barba 3. Liam Capewell 4. Nemani Valekapa 5. Richard Pandia 6. Josh Cleeland 7. Dane Phillips 8. Josh Seage 9. Matt Parcell 10. Rod Griffin 11. Sam Martin 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Keiron Lander (c) 14. Landon Hayes 15. Kurtis Lingwoodock 16. Billy McConnachie 22. Fakahoko Teutau 17. Peter Whittaker 18. Haydan Lipp 19. Chris Walker

Coaches: Ben and Shane Walker

Newcastle Knights: 1. Jake Mamo 2. Honeti Tuha 3. Kerrod Holland 4. Joseph Tapine 5. Ken Tofilau 6. Carlos Tuimavave 7. Jaelen Feeney 8. Damian Sironen 9. Danny Levi 10. Sam Mataora 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Jacob Saifiti 13. Clint Newton (c) 14. George Ndaira 15. Marvin Filipo 16. Michael Steele 17. Josh King 18. Luke Yates 27. Tama Koopu

Coach: Matt Lantry