Turbo-charged Jet a Rabbitoh
NAT Neale is proof that persistence pays off.
At 25, the Ipswich Jets' 2013 best and fairest player is packing his stuff and heading for the big smoke of Sydney and an NRL contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
"It's come around pretty fast," Neale said as he prepared to drive to Sydney this weekend.
Neale only signed his deal with the Rabbitohs, for one year, last week. But he had been in discussions with them for the past two months.
Rather than provide a distraction, the thought he was so close to a professional contract spurred Neale on to greater heights as the Jets reached the Queensland Cup finals.
So much so there was no competition come the end of season as to who would win the Ipswich Jets' best and fairest and players' player awards.
It was Neale's second successive Allan Langer Medal (for the best and fairest), but he rates his form this year far superior than 2012.
"I think I've improved heaps from last year to this year," he said. "Ten times better.
"I think it comes from a bit more maturity. I put in a lot of effort, training and that.
"I upped my work rate.
"At 25 you've got your head screwed on.
"You're not partying."
Five years ago, Neale was a part-time member of the New Zealand Warriors training squad.
When he got cut from the squad, he made the decision to move to Australia and joined the Jets.
It has proved one of the best decisions he ever made.
"If I was still in New Zealand, I'd be working as an electrician, probably playing local league footy," he said.
"It wasn't a tough decision. I wanted to give it a real crack away from other influences at home."
Integral to his rise as a footballer has been partner Ariana, who backed his move across the ditch and has supported him all the way.
"She's followed me everywhere," Neale said. "She's my biggest fan and she motivates me."
Ariana is delighted to be moving to Sydney, partly because her man has achieved his dream and partly because she has a heap of friends there.
While the goal of an NRL contract is achieved, Neale knows his hard work is just beginning.
"I'm a little bit nervous," he said of what lies in store.
"I'm now a small fish in a big pond and I've got to prove myself."
It is work ethic Neale hopes will get him from the foot in the door he's been given with a top 30 contract, to his goal of playing 10 first grade games in 2014.
For that he has had a perfect grounding at the Jets, where hard work is paramount and no short-cuts are allowed.
"I think that's the perfect way to think," he said. "It's how it should be in the NRL."
Ipswich Jets: 2011-13
- Jets best and fairest award winner in 2012 and 2013.
- Jets players' player award winner in 2013.
- Represented Queensland Residents v NSW Residents 2013.