While he couldn't quite bring himself to wish the team good luck, Ben Cross was gracious in his thanks for the opportunity the Ipswich Jets were granted to take part in an opposed session with the Queensland Maroons as part of their State of Origin Game I preparations.
A former New South Wales Blues forward and coach of the NSW Women's representative side, the current Jets Hostplus Cup mentor thanked the Maroons following their session, saying it would provide a boost for his team.
“Thanks for the opportunity, massive leg up for us," Cross said.
“I won’t wish you luck next week, just to play well.
“The blood that runs through my veins is sky blue, but play well, and these guys absolutely loved it, so thanks very much.”
Speaking of the session, Cross - who played with Melbourne Storm, Canberra Raiders and Newcastle Knights during his NRL career - joked he, of course, wasn't assisting his long-time Origin rivals, but rather, maintaining his long-standing relationships.
“I was helping a couple of very good mates, a gentleman’s agreement," Cross said.
“When the opportunity came up, I rang Bill (Slater) and he said that would be great to have an opposed session, obviously I have a lot of former teammates (in the Queensland staff) there in Smithy (Cameron Smith), GI (Greg Inglis) and Dal (Dallas Johnson) are all involved.
“For our guys, it’s giving our guys an opportunity to pit their wares against them and I know they’ll get a massive buzz out of that, which is great.
“We like to do as much opposed sessions at our trainings as well... (but) the speed of this play has been a bit faster, and they can pit themselves against their heroes they see on the television as well."
The afternoon spent at Camp Maroon was a good reward for the commitment of the Ipswich players who, despite their efforts, are yet to record a win this season.
The team have performed well in stages of each game they have played, but with the side still figuring out their defensive structures, all lapses are being punished.
However, Cross, who has been offering a weekly breakdown of the game following each round on the club’s Facebook page, was pragmatic about where his side were currently, and optimistic about the long-term goal.
Already this year, they have blooded 15 new Jets players, most of them making their Cup debuts, which has shown what a struggle consistency has been for the team this year. However, the best way forward is by gaining experience and as long as each player is learning from their errors, Cross can’t ask for much more from his squad.
“We haven’t been able to have the same 17 on the park once, we have had a lot of injuries, we have had a lot of debutants come through, a fair bit of changeover of personnel and of coaching staff as well,” Cross said.
“You need time in your boots. I was just talking to a couple of the guys here, Patty Carrigan and Thomas Flegler, now they are into 50-70 games in their NRL career, playing like the NRL players they are.
“It’s just the same at our level as well, they have got to get some games under their belt and experience and once they get more competent, then the confidence will come.
“They get that 20 to 30 games under their belt, and then they know what they have to do.
“That is the idea about our program, eventually having a high percentage of local Ipswich kids in our Hostplus Cup team, but again, they have to start somewhere, and their first game is going to be nowhere near as good as their 50th game, and their 50th game hopefully will be nowhere near as good as their 100th game.
"They have to start somewhere and start small; you just drip feed them in, and put them in for a couple games and pull them out for a bit and build that confidence up and go back and play Colts, and when they do go back and play (Hastings Deering) Colts, they play like Cup players and then you bring them back up.
“We have a few guys like that Ngiyaani Waters and Mitch Harsant, so it’s good reward for them, but again, they are going to build up over time.”
While for many of the Ipswich players who are Queensland born-and-bred, the session was inspiration in itself, the Maroons Game I team also includes a familiar face in Kurt Capewell, a former Jet who helped the side to their 2015 premiership.
“Obviously, the guys know about that history, we are very proud of our history and our players who have come through with our honour board,” Cross said.
“(Reaching the highest level) is not too far away for some of these players. Honestly, playing the Hostplus Cup, they are only a few steps away if they apply themselves.
“The NRL clubs have got to get their players from somewhere … and I say to them all the time, why not you?”
Match: Dolphins v Jets
Round 10 -
Venue: Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe
The Jets will continue to press to improve themselves when they take on Redcliffe Dolphins in their Round 10 match at Moreton Daily Stadium tonight.