Meet Nat Neale… the chicken pesto pasta prop

One word that sums up Ipswich Jets prop Nat Neale’s performances every week is "energy" and now he has let the cat out of the bag and revealed the pasta dish he polishes off each night before a game to get him in the mood.

Players often have a pre-game ritual that gets them in the right frame of mind to bring out their best and the XXXX Queensland Residents prop is no different.

Neale's meal of choice gets him believing he will wreak havoc on the field, so before playing New South Wales at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday, he will be briefing the camp chef about his dietary requirements on game eve.

“The night before a game I have the same meal every time – a chicken pesto pasta,” Neale grinned.

Nat Neale in action for Ipswich Jets. Photo: QRL Media
Nat Neale in action for Ipswich Jets. Photo: QRL Media

“I started off cooking it, but my missus has taken over and it probably tastes a bit better now.

“It was a case of trial and error and I found that the chicken pesto pasta was the meal that gets the best out of me.

"If I don’t have it the night before a game I get a bit antsy, but I should be alright this week because the staff are cooking for us. I’m going to ask for it."

The 30-year-old's revelation may well have the rest of the props in the Intrust Super Cup racing out to get the recipe to the pasta dish and saying "we want what he’s having", because the Jets warhorse has set the standard for years on the field.

Nat Neale in action for the XXXX Queensland Residents in 2017. Photo: NRL Images
Nat Neale in action for the XXXX Queensland Residents in 2017. Photo: NRL Images

Neale has won the prestigious Allan Langer Medal four times as the Jets’ best and fairest for the season and last year he was the Petero Civoniceva Medal winner for Intrust Super Cup’s best and fairest for the season.

The New Zealand-born front-rower's consistently high performances each week, and each year, stem from the fact he is his own harshest critic - a legacy left by his late grandmother and his mum.

"My grandma and then my mum were pretty tough on me growing up in New Zealand and now that has fallen on me to be tough on myself," Neale said.

"My grandma had Parkinson’s [Disease] and was pretty sick and you wouldn’t expect her to catch each full game that I played, but she would be on one side of the field and see me miss a tackle on the other. She’d come to see me after a game and say 'you missed a tackle'.

"Normally your grandma would be your biggest fan, but she was never afraid to tell me if I didn’t play well. She was an inspiration to me and my mum was the same."

Nat Neale in action for the Ipswich Jets this year. Photo: QRL Media
Nat Neale in action for the Ipswich Jets this year. Photo: QRL Media

Neale made his NRL debut in 2014 for South Sydney Rabbitohs - it was the only game he played at the top level. That was not due to a lack of ability on his part.

Jets coach Shane Walker said it was a case of "right club, wrong time" for Neale as the Rabbitohs had a star-studded forward pack that ultimately led them to premiership glory.

Neale got a lot out of his time there and got to know the Burgess twins better than most.

"I lived with Tom and George for about a year and it was like living in the land of the giants pretty much, because they are huge men," Neale chuckled.

"They were really good blokes away from footy and we got on well. They are big boys and strength comes naturally to them, so I had to work really hard to keep up with them. That was a plus for me."

Neale played rugby league with the Mt Albert Lions and under 20s; and NSW Cup with the New Zealand Warriors before signing with the Jets in 2011.

Walker said he had since been one of the club's best players on a regular basis.

"Nat's a fierce competitor - an 80-minute player, physically strong and has great endurance; he’s also slightly OCD. If our training routine is not as he likes it, there could be a ball or two kicked out of the ground," Walker chuckled.

"He has been one of our best from the day he got here. 

"When we first heard he was a white front-rower from New Zealand, we knew he was tough.

"Our old CEO Brad Wolens got some vision of him, we signed him and he hasn’t looked back.

"He’s not signed to an NRL club, but in terms of his experience and a guy who has learned his craft over a long period, you could certainly plug him into an NRL system and he wouldn’t let anyone down."

Nat Neale during XXXX Queensland Residents training. Photo: QRL Media
Nat Neale during XXXX Queensland Residents training. Photo: QRL Media

Neale, in his fourth year of an electrician’s apprenticeship, said he was relishing playing with the Jets under Ben and Shane Walker.

"Ben and Shane are always encouraging you to enjoy your footy at the Jets and that is what keeps me coming back," Neale said.

"They see the potential in everyone and always try and bring you up and not put you down.

"If there are a few errors in your game, they give you a subtle hint. The way they critique you is always good."

Neale said it would be "pretty cool" to line up with the XXXX Queensland Residents on Sunday.

NSW will have to contain him if they are to get over their opponents, and will have an even greater challenge on their hands if Neale polishes off his favourite chicken pesto pasta dish on game eve.