The last time Redbank Plains Bears made the Rugby League Ipswich A grade grand final, Jayden Elder hadn't been born.
But after forging his way into being a regular in the top side in 2023, the nimble hooker is set to play a vital role in Sunday's decider, which will be available to watch live on Qplus.tv.
Elder, a fortnight earlier, had a major hand in getting his side there, helping spark a late flurry of tries to overcome Fassifern in the semi-final to reach the decider, where the two teams will meet again after the Bombers dispatched Swifts.
The Redbank Plains community has been buzzing and preparing to get around the team - the club having only previously played in a grand final in 1996 - with the third-year teaching student a popular figure on the back of a mountain of off-field work this season improving the experience of junior players.
Elder has had assisted with the Central Comets under 11 team, Met West under 11 schoolboys, coached the Bears’ premiership winning under 16 team and played a major part in the club’s 'Baby Bears' Munchkins program introducing children aged three to five to the fun and fundamentals of footy.
The efforts earned him Senior Community Player of the Year - a humble accolade celebrating the extra-curricular activities in a rugby league sense.
They’ve been driven by his desire to share what he has learnt, helped by his evolving skill set thanks to his studies and professional development opportunities as a teacher aide at Goodna State School.
“They've given me opportunities to help coach and mentor and give me professional development to develop my skills, not only as a teacher, but also not just academically, but also stepping away in the sporting sense,” Jayden said.
“I’ve been able to help out at community sporting carnivals such as like gala days and all those sort of things we run here at school.
“It’s basically just having that idea and that framework around looking at where (the kids) come from and understanding their value as kids and as players and what they can turn into I think is what keeps me involved in my passion just to help the young ones and guide them through something that I had a lot of and I valued as a player coming through.
“I hope I’m giving them the tools they need as well and mentoring them to give them that assistance in terms of not only on the field, but also off the field as well with their academics.”
It will be put to the back of his mind for a brief period on Sunday when he will get his chance to add to the club’s history as a player, having watched on in the finals last year.
“Last year we were unsuccessful in the semi-final but this year we've had a new coach, Kirisome (Auva’a), who's been and played at the top level (NRL with Parramatta), so his experience and his knowledge has really helped us and paved that way for our pathway into the grand final,” Jayden said.
“I think this week in the prep it has really helped us, especially having those senior groups stepping forward, just guiding us through trainings and kind of giving us a sense of what it will look like and how we can prepare for it.”
He expects Fassifern to be a tough ask as they were two weeks ago.
“They’re a team that can put on plays anywhere on the field across the park. They've got a good half and second rows that can run good, solid lines- and they love a face ball playing on the edges,” Jayden said.
“Luke Pollock playing at the back (for Fassifern) is pretty handy. He loves the kick, loves the face ball, just that old backyard footy, so defending it, reading it, it'll be pretty hard, but I think the boys will make an effort to make the play and shut them down.”
The extra effort will win the day, with Redbank Plains having plenty of attacking flair of their own. They have only scored less than 30 points three times this year.
Bears club president Jodie Elder, who has been involved on the committee for 15 years, said reaching the grand final was a celebration in itself, and a testament to everyone involved right through to juniors for building a proud community culture.
“We’ve worked really hard this year and in the offseason had a good look at ourselves as a club and did some reflection and looked at our governance and wanted to improve certain areas of the club,” Elder said.
“We've done a lot in terms of community and bringing community together and getting people out and about to enjoy their footy again.
“Rugby league, at the end of the day, is not just a game.
“It's about community, it's about positivity, getting people out and about and enjoying it, with some structure providing a social platform for people.
“At the end of the day, it's culture, inclusivity and teaching people who love the game how they can benefit from it as well.”
See both the A grade and reserve grade grand finals live on Qplus.tv this Sunday afternoon.
Rugby League Ipswich senior grand finals
Venue: North Ipswich Reserve
12pm: Volunteers Cup - Springfield Panthers v Brothers Ipswich
1.45pm: Big Hit Teamwear Reserve Grade Cup - Fassifern Bombers v Brothers Ipswich (Broadcast on Qplus.tv)
3.30pm: Ipswich Jets A Grade Cup - Redbank Plains Bears v Fassifern Bombers (Broadcast on Qplus.tv)
Main image: Jayden Elder passes from dummy half in the A grade major semi-final for Redbank Plains against Fassifern. Photo: Bruce Clayton Photography