Many believed Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ rising forward Josh Jackson was in serious trouble after a tackle went wrong last weekend against Manly. Those same people thought Jackson would cop at least a week for his chicken-wing on Sea Eagles bench prop Josh Starling.
In the end, Jackson escaped charge by the NRL and will line up against the Penrith Panthers in a preliminary final at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, with the Gulgong native gunning for a victory which would see him appear in two Grand Finals in three years after going down to the Melbourne Storm in the 2012 decider. That was also his debut season in the top grade.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week that Jackson was a key for the blue-and-whites if they are to overcome the Panthers this weekend.
“He’s had a good year, a stellar year,” Hasler said.
“He’s gotten better and better. He’s pretty important to what we do and I think the match review committee got it right.”
Whether the match review committee got it right or wrong is a matter for someone else.
Jackson, being the absolute professional he is, has put the drama behind him and is preparing for what could be a potential Four Nations trial against Penrith sledgehammer, Adam Docker.
Docker returns from suspension for the Panthers and has been earmarked as a bolter by Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens for the Australian squad that will face England, New Zealand and Samoa at the end of the NRL season.
But if Sheens is looking for a young bull with a motor, Jackson should be a prime contender for a green-and-gold jumper. Apart from perhaps James Graham, no Canterbury forward has impressed on a week-to-week basis more than Jackson.
With injury slicing through Sheens’ first-choice options in the pack, the Kangaroos are likely to blood some fresh faces throughout the Four Nations tournament. A points decision on Saturday night for either Jackson or Docker might just see them get over the line.
“Reading about the Kangaroos talk in the paper and being 80 minutes away from a Grand Final, it’s a massive blowout,” Docker told The Daily Telegraph.
“We could end up winning it. It could change my life. It’s a lot and I’m looking forward to everything.”
For both Jackson and Docker, things could have been a whole lot different.
Through the continuous shuffle of the junior grades, where so much talent is lost in clubs’ desperate scramble to find the next superstar out of thousands of hopefuls, these two found success at rival clubs.
The Newcastle Knights let Jackson slip through their net when he joined the Bulldogs after appearing for the Knights’ SG Ball side throughout 2009, while Shellharbour’s Docker would have undoubtedly worn the famous Red V if injury hadn’t plagued the lock in his younger days.
They’ve both made it this far on determination and a hunger to be premier forwards in the game and here they are only days away from a shot at the 2014 NRL Grand Final.
“Young Docker is a kid of the future,” Sheens told The Daily Telegraph.
“He’s like a young Paul Gallen. He hits hard and works hard. He’s about the same build at the same age. He’ll be considered for sure.”
Sheens could very easily be talking about Jackson, too.
“He’s got the best tackling technique I’ve seen for a long, long time.”
While Docker has already built a reputation as one of the cleanest hitters in the game, Jackson has earned his by toiling and doing the things only a coach could fully enjoy.
Either way, Australia is the real winner, in the short-term and the long.
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