Ipswich Jets livewire Jayden Connors has been likened to past and present South Sydney stars Damien Cook and Darrell "Tricky" Trindall and new coach Keiron Lander insists he is ready to follow in their footsteps.
The versatile 24-year-old will play fullback for Ipswich in the Intrust Super Cup season opener against Townsville Blackhawks on Saturday night, in what Lander told NRL.com loomed as a breakout season for the former Titans under-20s star.
Former Ipswich coaches Ben and Shane Walker gave Connors the nickname "Tricky" for his resemblance to Trindall, who played 171 NRL games, including 150 of them at the Rabbitohs where he showcased his box of tricks at fullback or in the halves.
In 2017 Connors made his Intrust Super Cup debut at hooker where he set up two tries, scored two tries and celebrated both with a backflip in honour of his mentor Nathan Blacklock, who had sent him a text on game day with some inspirational advice.
Connors hails from Tingha, the same small town that produced Blacklock, Owen Craigie and Preston Campbell. Like Campbell, he can play at fullback, hooker or in the halves with equal style.
"Tricky wants to learn and has a competitive nature and will to win that’s second to none, but he also has skills that you just can’t teach,” Lander told NRL.com.
"He’ll be my fullback but he can also play half or hooker. He’s a genuine footballer, Jayden.
"He is two or three years into his Intrust Super Cup career but if Damien Cook can play NRL then Jayden Connors can.
"He has the same speed and the passing game to play hooker. He was going to share that role with Kierran Moseley but we are a bit light on at fullback
"My job is to coach in a style that supports what his best attributes are and I think I can do that for him."
Lander will take the reins of the Jets after the club was superbly led by Ben and Shane Walker for nine years, highlighted by the 2015 Intrust Super Cup and NRL State Championship titles.
They are big shoes to fill but Lander, who captained the 2015 side to glory, feels privileged and not daunted.
"I don’t think I would be able to coach the way I have or to transition into coaching without the support I’ve got from them," Lander said.
"I’ve learned how to look at things and think about things in a different way, and not to react straight away to what you thought you saw in a game.
"My values are aligned to our players’ values, and Ben and Shane were similar where their support away from the field was invaluable. To Ben and Shane’s credit they are a phone call away, and I am grateful for that."
Lander, who spent several seasons at the Broncos and Cowboys without getting an NRL debut, was one of the toughest forwards to lace a boot in his Intrust Super Cup career.
He is respected by all in the game and said he learned plenty in his time at Brisbane.
"I was a junior when I was at the Broncos and played for the Wests Panthers Colts but I learned a lot from Wayne Bennett," he said.
"It is just the way he holds himself and conducts his conversations. The top coaches like Wayne don't overthink it. They don't talk too much. For them it is all about man management."
The opening round of the Intrust Super Cup will feature all 14 teams and will be highlighted by a rematch of the 2019 grand final between Wynnum-Manly and reigning premiers Burleigh on Sunday.
Late on Friday afternoon the Queensland Rugby League issued a press release advising that all statewide competition matches would proceed as scheduled this weekend.
The QRL said that, as part of an ongoing response to COVID-19, it would continue to monitor the situation carefully and is taking advice daily from National Rugby League and government representatives.
In addition, the QRL is in constant contact with its clubs ahead of the opening round of the Intrust Super Cup, BHP Premiership, Hastings Deering Colts and Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup this weekend.