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Jets coaches reflect on Purcell's fruitful Cup career

Some players have a pull that brings you through the gate - they make you go to the football.

Michael Purcell was one of those players.

Purcell passed away this week, with tributes flowing for the talented fullback who thrilled rugby league fans with his skills. 

Purcell played 73 games for the Ipswich Jets in the Hostplus Cup, wowing fans with his 66 tries.

In Purcell’s career at the Jets, he brought the North Ipswich Reserve to their feet whenever he touched the ball as he made the impossible seem possible and the ridiculous the norm.

Standing still when he received the ball, going nowhere - but just wait, hold on -Purcell would explode through a non-existent gap.

Purcell has the third most tries for the Jets and the 10th most points with 302.

Freakish talent: Best of Michael Purcell '18

An attacking force from the start, Purcell scored on debut against Norths in 2016 coming off the bench. It may have taken him until the 78th minute for him to get that first try, but then he was away.

Coached by Ben Walker and Shane Walker, it didn’t take long for the Jets co-coaches to understand what they had on their hands.

Ben Walker heard about and then saw in the flesh the special talent.

“We heard from some people in Charleville about his skill and then we got him down here and we were blown away from the start,” Walker said.

“Such a great athlete, speed, strong and such a happy young man."

Purcell was a marathon runner, completing the New York marathon at 17 and that told Walker plenty about the young man.

“He was super fit. We brought him on slowly off the bench his first games and then he broke his arm the first season and we had to put him in BRL for two weeks when he came back," Walker said.

Purcell would play 15 games in his first year and score 13 tries, including a double two weeks in a row against Northern Pride and Central Queensland Capras and then three against Mackay Cutters.

But it would be the two weeks in BRL that would make Jets BRL coach Mark Bishop the happiest, with Purcell scoring 10 tries in two games against Carina and Logan Brothers.

“He came back from the broken arm and Ben and Shane Walker said we will give him some confidence back,” Bishop said.

It didn’t take him long to get that confidence.

“He was like the big kid, standing flat-footed; just give him the ball and he’d score again,” Bishop laughed as he remembered "the kangaroo catcher".

“I remember saying to Ben and Shane, can I have him for a few more weeks, don’t think he’s right for Cup. They said no.”

Purcell would never play anything but Cup for the Jets again.

Shane Walker remembered an athlete that couldn’t be broken.

“We would make new Jets do repeated fitness every training night and then if we broke them, we knew they couldn’t be a Jet,” Walker said.

“We are standing there and waiting for Purcy to break, but he was leading everything, just running along with a huge smile on face.

“We knew then we had something special.

“Dane Phillips came to us one of his first sessions and said how good is this club, he wouldn’t even get a run at any other club and here, he will score 30 tries a year.

“Our friend from Chinchilla came to a Jets game and at the end of warm up he’s grabbed me and said 'is that Michael Purcell'?

“I said 'yeah, he is playing for us, why'?

“Foordy (John Forde) said he played reserve grade in Chinchilla last year, he scored seven tries and kicked seven goals before half-time.

“The A Grade coach took him off and we got beaten by two without him.”

The Michael Purcell legacy at the Jets was solidified against the Townsville Blackhawks in the 2018 finals.

It was Purcell's first finals game and Ipswich's first in two years. The match up was third versus sixth away from home in Townsville.

Purcell turned in a startling performance with two tries and it could almost have been three before half-time when he was pulled down just short of the line.

Up 20-0 at half-time after Purcell put on a masterclass, he ended the match with 195 metres, three-line breaks, 11 tackle breaks and two tries.

Scoring 22 tries in 2018 from 19 games to finish the season as the competition's leading try-scorer he was a sensation that year, with NRL players Scott Drinkwater and Kotoni Staggs unable to run down the flying Jet.

That will be the enduring image of Purcell; he will always be running, the crowd standing... the kangaroo catcher scoring and everyone - including Purcell - smiling.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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