FIVE keen young halves are fighting it out for two starting positions as the Ipswich Jets prepare to kick off their pre-season in a trial clash with Easts at Laidley on Saturday.
Dane Phillips, 26, is the most experienced of the group and is favoured to start in the halfback jersey, but he will be under plenty of pressure from Chris Ash, Ollie Olds, Hayden Lipp and Josh Cleeland.
Co-coach Ben Walker said Phillips made a steady start to last season before injuring his posterior cruciate.
“Dane had about eight or nine weeks off, so it took him a while to get back into it, but he certainly finished off the season really well,” Walker said.
“He did his job as good as we could have asked him to.
“He’s fit this year and the knee isn’t giving him any trouble, so there shouldn’t be any dramas going forward.
“Dane has a terrific kicking game; he organises the team well, he passes well and he’s competitive.
“That is pretty much all you can ask for from a halfback.
“With the younger halves that he’s got around him, he is certainly going to be a key to our season.”
The retirement of veteran Ian Lacey has left a hole, but Walker said the positive for the Jets was that all the halves candidates were young, keen and willing to learn.
“We’ve got a few candidates. They are all young and will all be looking to play well in the trial matches,” he said.
“We’ve got plenty of depth, we just don’t have the experience.
“But you don’t necessarily need it to succeed, as long as the halves are competitive and know their role.”
While Phillips is favoured to be the first choice half the other candidates have plenty to offer.
“Chris Ash and Ollie Olds have come through from the 20s,” he said.
“Ashy did a really good job with the FOGS last year.
“He’s a good organiser and has been with us three years.
He understands his role and how we play.
“He is one of those guys who has worked hard on his game and is getting the best out of himself.
“He had a bad break in his leg about 18 months ago, so last year he was fresh off that.
“But he did a really good job and we expect him to do well this year as well.
“Ollie came out from Wales and was injured, but he did all that he could with the busted leg that he had.
“Hayden Lipp has come down from the Toowoomba 20s and he looks like a ready-made five-eighth and he will get a chance throughout the trials.
“We were happy to sign Josh Cleeland from the local league as well. He’s got plenty of ability and will get an opportunity in the trials too.”
The trial against Easts will give Walker a good gauge of how his players are progressing.
The result is immaterial.
“Trials don’t mean too much,” Walker said.
“I think we have won one out of nine in our three years.
“But we get a good gauge of where a player sits and what they’ve got.
“They are good for match fitness too.”
The match is eagerly awaited at Laidley, the club that produced Broncos and Brumbies star Peter Ryan.
The clash could be the first time the Jets come up against former team-mate Donald Malone who has been training with the Easts Tigers.
Thanks to the QT, Joel Gould, and Rob Williams. For more info – go to http://www.qt.com.au/news/jets-face-choice-to-pick-halves/2154853/