One of the form teams of 2016 – partly due to the drought-breaking premiership of their NRL affiliate – returns to improve again this season. For fans of senior Rugby League’s oldest continuing club, 2017 looks like another big one for the Newtown Jets.
Seven cruel minutes in the preliminary final were all that kept Newtown from making the big one last year, succumbing to eventual premiers Illawarra in a wet-weather affair at Leichhardt Oval. Overall, however, the year should be considered a successful one, with the likes of Kurt Capewell, Fa’amanu Brown and the since-departed Matt McIlwrick and Jesse Sene-Lefao all breaking into a successful NRL side at various points throughout the year.
In the new season, it is fair to say that a good portion of Intrust Super Premiership NSW fans will back the Jets to win the competition this year, with a largely consistent roster and the Sharks widely tipped to be right up there again in the NRL title race. With what appears to be a healthy mix of youth and experience among the side, coach Greg Matterson has at his disposal the ingredients for a successful year – even if they haven’t trained together yet.
“We haven’t really had this squad together, we haven’t trained with them yet,” Matterson tells NSWRL.com.au. “It’s a bit unknown, like most sides. You get your NRL players back pretty late for this first round and see how we all mix together with our part-time boys.
“I’m just looking forward to it (the 2017 season) with some confidence, but with some trepidation as well.”
2016 IN 16 WORDS OR LESS
There or thereabouts, but unable to string three wins together more than once all season.
THEIR BIG FIVE
Primarily coming off the bench to cover a range of positions, Kurt Kara will be key in levelling out a team which is sure to lose players to NRL and injury throughout the year.
Gigantic – that’s all that can be used to describe 135kg man mountain Saulala Houma. He will look to cut down on that weight but when he does, could be very destructive.
Kurt Dillon trains with the Sharks but is well acquainted with the Jets, with high expectations on him to perform again this year.
With coach Matterson hoping for greater involvement, speedster Matt Evans could be in for a big season. He showed in 2016 that he is more than capable of finding the line.
Malakai Houma, younger brother of Saulala, is contracted to Cronulla and will want a full-time spot there sooner rather than later. The prop is certainly able to break the line with some strong carries.
Greg Matterson is undoubtedly the most experienced head among the Intrust Super Premiership NSW coaching ranks this year; now into his 10th year in charge of the Jets, he has the second-longest coaching stint at a single senior Rugby League club after Wayne Bennett’s initial reign of the Broncos. His time at Henson Park has understandably had its ups and downs, with an historic drought-breaking premiership in 2012 sparking celebrations for one of the sport’s most loved franchises.
For the 54-year-old, this season will pose new challenges as the Jets will settle for nothing less than a premiership. Matterson’s wealth of experience is sure to bring together young and old to ensure the Jets are fired up for 2017.
“You learn something new all the time because you’ve got new players, there’s new personalities, the game evolves a little bit,” Matterson explains. “I’ve been at the club 13 years – the more time I spend here, the more it dawns on me the great history of the club.”
Newtown haven’t experienced the mass player exodus of some of their competitors in the off season, but have lost some individuals who were key to their strong form last year. Among those are Wests Tigers-bound Matt McIlwrick, 2016 Five-eighth of the Year Josh Cleeland (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) and talented winger Jacob Gagan (Newcastle Knights). In return, they’ll welcome the likes of Manaia Cherrington (Wests Tigers) and two Sea Eagles players in Ben Fritz and James Tuitahi, while Penani Manumalealii (Wests Tigers) could feature heavily in their 2017 campaign.
From what we saw last year, there’s no reason to think that the Jets will experience a slide down the ladder in 2017. It won’t be easy and they will need to be on their game, but Newtown certainly have the potential to be in the top four teams once again. We’ll place the Blue Baggers right up there again for the upcoming season.