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Ipswich's adopted son Neale calls time on Cup career

If Nat Neale was a pub meal, he’d be steak and chips with a beer. Nothing too exotic, not too fancy, but always can be relied upon to hit the spot.

Does its job every time. Just like Neale. 

The captain of the Ipswich Jets has decided to call time on a Cup journey that started in 2011 and has netted 180 games for the club, making him the third most capped Jet.

Once he hangs up the boots following this weekend, the dependable prop will be 34th on the list of most caps in Hostplus Cup, drawing alongside his front row foe Luke Page.

On Saturday against the Northern Pride, Neale will play his last Cup game.

Someone who has built his game on just doing his job, it is the simple things and the little things that he does that has meant a lot to his team mates and to Ipswich fans.

“This is it... this season,” Neale said.

“I thought about retirement last year, but was sure I still had something to contribute this season.

“I think that I am slowing up and I don’t want to not be performing."

A busy family man who recently welcomed twins, Neale’s workload at home has increased and home is where he wants to be.

“I think I would have retired anyway, but twins certainly made the choice easier for me,” Neale said.

“There is no way anyone could convince me to change my mind, I am done.”

After 11 years and 180 games, Neale doesn’t have one highlight he can pinpoint.

“It’s all been so good that I don’t have a highlight,” Neale, who was born in Auckland, said.

“I didn’t even know where Ipswich was at first... I had to Google it.

“We sent an email to every Hostplus Cup team and Ipswich were the only ones that wanted me so I was off to Ipswich.

“It’s been great, I have played with some terrific Jets... Rowen Winterfield, Rogan Dean and Tyson Lofipo, but I could make a squad of great blokes and great players.”

Neale’s 38 tries are already the most by a Jets forward and has him in 11th spot for the club, needing just two more to move into the top 10 for the Jets.

“Maybe I can score a double this week in my last game and go past Carlin Anderson, that’d be a great front rowers farewell,” Neale laughed.

Neale will be equal on 180 games with one of his great adversaries Page, with the former Burleigh Bears warrior having locked in on Neale from across the halfway on many occasions. 

“It was always so tough playing against Nat,” Page said.

“He was always taking front rower of the year off me.

“It’s a massive effort to play 180 games in the middle and he’s earned his retirement.”

Nat Neale in action during his debut season in 2011. Photo: QRL
Nat Neale in action during his debut season in 2011. Photo: QRL

In 2011, the Jets had two new coaches and a new Kiwi front rower named Nat Neale. Neale had played 10 games for the New Zealand Warriors in the Toyota Cup, but other than that, not a lot was known about the young prop from New Zealand.

That was about to change.

Neale made his Cup debut in Round 1 against the Tigers in a 16-16 draw at Langlands Park and since then, wrote his name in the club's history. 

Neale will leave a legacy of effort with six Allan Langer Medals for the Jets player of the year, one Petero Civoniceva Medal for the competition’s best and four XXXX Queensland Residents jumpers to his name. 

He debuted off the bench for the Residents in 2013 after 54 games for the Jets and played in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for the Queensland representative side. Add to his resume an NRL game for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Neal’s NRL debut for the Rabbitohs in 2014 against the Wests Tigers came under the coaching of Michael Maguire.

“Nat was always someone who worked extremely hard and was committed to what was required for the team and he is a great example of this,” Maguire said.

Tyson Lofipo has been Neale’s front row mate on and off the field.

Lofipo and Neale played together for 10 years at the Jets, forming a front row combination that had other teams living in fear.

“Natty deserve a seat at the table if you’re discussing the best ever Jet,” Lofipo said.

“He’s with Danny Coburn as far as I am concerned.

“(Playing) 80 minutes in the middle every week for 180 games is a huge effort.

“I remember Ben and Shane Walker telling me once the best players have minimal gap between their best and worst game - well Nat’s best and worst game gap is non-existent.

“You wouldn’t know when he has had a bad game.”

The Walker Brothers were two new coaches in 2011, but they soon learnt what they had and how special the young Neale would be for the Jets. They would coach Neale in 150 of his 180 games for the Jets.

Ben Walker was impressed from the very first session.

“I remember he was assertive from the start... a real leader who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion at a new club if he thought something needed to be said," Walker said. 

“We played a trial against the Roosters and he stood up against an NRL pack and he’s been doing that since every week.

“He’s got a terrific offload and I would have loved to play with Nat."

Shane Walker was also impressed from the very start.

“Nat came here in 2011 and Ipswich was devastated by floods, Nat was living at the uni accommodation which was destroyed and he is there pulling up carpet and helping people he didn’t even know,” Walker said.

“That tells me a lot about him.

“Then it came to training and he was competitive and all action.

“Incredibly skilful player and tough.

“He has had a fantastic career.”

Nat Neale is chaired off the field by team mates following his last game at North Ipswich Reserve. Photo: Erick Lucero / QRL
Nat Neale is chaired off the field by team mates following his last game at North Ipswich Reserve. Photo: Erick Lucero / QRL

Beside Neale has been his wife Kristy, who has been as solid a performer off the field as her husband has been on the field.

“The Jets have been such an important part of Nat’s life and our whole family,” Kristy said.

“He’s turned from a young man from New Zealand into a great husband and father to Hudson, Remi and Maeve and that’s what we are proud of... the man he is.”

Neale will do his job again in game 180 for the Jets against the Northern Pride this weekend with no fuss or fanfare. It will be simple but just like that pub meal, loved until the end.

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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