The Northern Jets’ bid to be among the Farrer League’s high fliers has hit some mid-season turbulence with the exit of reliable backman Declan O’Rourke.
The Jets travel to Gumly on Saturday with fifth spot on the line against East Wagga-Kooringal.
Both sides have had three wins from seven games. The winner will square their ledger at the halfway mark and, in all likelihood, open up a four-point break between the top five and the bottom four.
O’Rourke’s departure – to Canberra club Eastlake – will be keenly felt. He's been in the Jets’ best in half of his games this year and, incredibly, in 21 of 38 games across the last three seasons.
“The travel (from Canberra) was too hard for him,” teammate Alex Rogers said.
“He’s been out there for four-and-a-half-years and he’s got the respect of everyone at the club. He’s probably the most consistent player at the Jets – good hands, good skills and just really reliable.”
Until recently, Rogers had been one of O’Rourke’s offsiders, setting up the Jets’ play from the back.
But he’s adjusting to his own change, after being moved to centre-half-forward in recent weeks.
“It’s not a position I’ve played much of,” Rogers said.
“It’s definitely different from being in the backline but I’m slowly getting used to it and starting to kick a couple of goals, too.”
Rogers’ run out of defence earned him best-on-ground honours in the Farrer League representative side’s win in Victoria last month.
And the mobile utility is taking a similar approach at the other end of the ground, on the advice of a Jets guru.
“Chris Bell’s on a flank there so he gives me an idea of how I’m going to play,” Rogers said.
“He tells me not to be a stay-at-home forward, just get on the bike and play the game you want to play.”
Used to sizing up EWK’s forwards, Rogers expects the Hawks’ defence to be just as big a challenge.
“I haven’t seen much of East Wagga’s game this year but from what I’ve heard they’ve got a pretty strong back six,” he said.
Rogers said the Jets’ focus is on their own start, after conceding six goals in the first quarter of last week’s 38-point loss at Marrar.
“We’re trying to work on that at training, trying to get our starts better,” he said. “We had Declan tell us before the game he wasn’t going to come back. It just wasn’t our day.”
Three weeks ago, the Jets were rolled by the league’s other top side, North Wagga, to the tune of 60 points.
“North Wagga have a really good back six,” Rogers said. “They’re very good at cutting that one inside 50, then switching it straight away. And they’re all young and fit.
“Marrar have got that all over the ground – they were good on the rebound too, they could switch it to the wings and get it up to (Brad) Turner in three or four kicks.”
O’Rourke’s departure continues a season disrupted by injury to key players, but the Jets will be taking the advice of pilots.
Specifically, that turbulence is an inconvenience rather than a genuine danger to passengers. They just need to get to another level to make the ride more comfortable.