SEASON REVIEW | Newtown Jets
Ladder position: 4th
Competition points: 33
Points scored (including finals): 534
Points conceded (including finals): 475
After a disappointing ninth-place finish in 2015, the Jets were back with a point to prove this season and put forward a much improved effort to go agonisingly close to a Grand Final berth. Newtown led eventual premiers Illawarra until the 73rd minute in the Preliminary Final, with two late tries sealing their fate at Leichhardt Oval. It had been an impressive performance in the wet until that point but it just wasn’t to be for the foundation club in 2016.
As the Cronulla Sharks surged to an historic maiden NRL premiership, their feeder club produced the goods in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW as several young players put their hands up for selection in the top grade. There was a good mix of youth and experience throughout the side, however, and Mitch Brown took on the captaincy in style prior to his departure for the Leigh Centurions in Round 17. While the loss of Brown was significant, sufficient depth in the outside backs served the blue baggers well as they charged towards the finals.
It can’t get a mention for either their best or worst performance this season, but Newtown’s Round 25 win over Manly will go down as one of the most memorable in the club’s 102 senior Rugby League seasons. After trailing 38-12 with just 20 minutes remaining, the Jets piled on an incredible five unanswered tries to give the big Henson Park crowd an amazing display on the Jets’ final home game of the season. While the poor defence against the Sea Eagles was a worrying sign ahead of the finals, it was a spectacular finish for the loyal fans.
Unfortunately, a failure to string several wins together – the Jets managed just to win three in a row just once this year – brought them undone in September as they lost to both Grand Finalists in their three games. Ultimately, they managed just one win from their eight games against top four sides in 2016, which came way back in Round 5 against the Tigers. While the Jets’ attack showed glimpses of promise – they totalled 92 points in Rounds 14 and 15 – it would be a sticking point for the side which, following the regular season, was the worst of all top eight teams in this department.
It was one of the biggest wins in Newtown’s long history – the Jets’ Round 14 demolition of the Wentworthville Magpies was impressive victory that saw their attack truly click into gear. With the Magpies adjusting to life without halfback Mitch Cornish and the era of newly-adopted coach Nathan Cayless, they offered little as the home side ran rampant at Henson Park.
The 54-6 scoreline included two hat-tricks for Newtown, with right-hand centre and wing pairing Travis Robinson and Jordan Drew crossing for three tries apiece in one of the most dominant displays by a single edge this year. A 79th-minute consolation try for the Magpies saved them from being held to nil, but it was as strong a performance as the Jets could have put forward that day.
Just a fortnight after Newtown’s best win of the year came their worst loss and while the Panthers had every right to defeat their Round 16 opponents, no one could have predicted the 60-6 thrashing that followed.
Boosted by the inclusion of former NSW VB Blues five-eighth Jamie Soward, Penrith were unstoppable; the 10-tries-to-one showing was among the heaviest defeats ever endured by Newtown. Anthony Moraitis scored the visitors’ only try in the first half, but it was all the Soward Show – the dropped five-eighth had a hand in several of his side’s tries and kicked 10 conversions from 10 attempts.
Soward’s inclusion, of course, should not have resulted in such a big scoreline and after two very impressive wins, the Jets were brought down to earth in emphatic fashion. Just 37% possession and 60% completions told the story of a loss that Newtown would rather forget.
Realistically, Newtown’s two-point loss to Mounties in Round 23 – specifically when Jarrad Kennedy crossed for the 79th-minute match-winner – was a key moment in the later stages of their season. Having taken it to the ladder-leaders nicely throughout the course of the game, the Jets held the ball for 82% completions and 54% possession but, like they did so many times in 2016, Mounties found a way to win.
In the course of their season, this was important given Newtown’s failure to defeat the best sides throughout the year. It signalled their fifth consecutive defeat to top four sides and a win would have been helpful to the confidence levels of the playing group. Following the heartbreaking defeat – in which Mounties confirmed themselves as Minor Premiers – the Jets had to come from behind twice to defeat lower-placed North Sydney and Manly, before losing to Mounties once again in the Qualifying Final. With three losses to Mounties, it always seemed tough for the Jets to take out the premiership after that point.
The Jets ended up with three selections in the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Team Of The Year, but it could easily have been even more. Josh Cleeland, Matt McIlwrick and Kurt Capewell secured the five-eighth, hooker and interchange spots respectively, with Capewell also impressing in the NRL in the back end of the Sharks’ successful season. Belmore-bound Cleeland will be a big loss in 2017 after a standout first season in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, while McIlwrick’s departure to the Wests Tigers will also leave a hole to fill.
Mitch Brown, Jaline Graham, Fa’amanu Brown and Arana Taumata formed a quartet of players that shuffled to various back line and playmaking positions this season and while Mitch Brown has since departed Australia, the other three can be electric at times. The undoubted talent of Fa’amanu Brown has him well within the frame to add to his 15 games for the Sharks – four of which came this season.
Destined for the NRL:
The replacement of retiring Michael Ennis is the only real point of contention when considering the Sharks’ line-up next season and as mentioned it could be filled by any of Fa’amanu Brown, former Tiger Manaia Cherrington or Holden Cup star Jayden Brailey. From the Jets this season, Jacob Gagan did no harm to his case for more time at Cronulla and it’s also expected to be a matter of when, not if, former Holden Cup captain Anthony Moraitis gets his NRL debut. Kurt Capewell, of course, appears to be a near-certain regular NRL player in 2017.
As mentioned, Newtown’s attack let them down somewhat this season and should be a focus if they are to improve in 2017. The irregularity of their playing roster, with the strike power of Fa’amanu Brown, Taumata and Graham all finding themselves in various positions throughout the season, but if the trio can nail down regular roles the Jets’ attack is likely to benefit. A few changes to the playing group poses both a threat and an opportunity for the Jets in 2017.