A PIECE of defensive brilliance from Bathurst league star Will Kennedy helped to inspire the Newtown Jets to a remarkable 20-16 NRL State Championship victory over the Burleigh Bears on Sunday.
While it was an extra-time try from Kennedy which saw the Jets clinch the Canterbury Cup premiership a week earlier in a thriller over Wentworthville, at ANZ Stadium it was a one-on-one tackle four minutes into the second half which topped his highlights.
Bears halfback Jamal Fogarty split the Jets open and found Tyronne Roberts-Davis in support, but fullback Kennedy chased back hard in cover defence.
Remarkably as the Burleigh winger attempted to ground the ball over the line, Kennedy got his left hand under it. It was ruled no try.
"I was on the sideline when that happened and I said, 'That's going to win us the game'," Jets forward Greg Eastwood told nswrl.com.au.
"If he doesn't do that they're too far ahead and we're trying to chase points and can't play our game.
"Will's had a great final series and hopefully next year he gets the call-up for Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks because he'll be ready to go."
As it was the Jets still found themselves have to chase a substantial lead as Fogarty scored two minutes later and converted to make it 16-2.
But chase the Jets did. With just under five minutes to go a smart Kennedy cut-out pass put Sione Katoa over his second try of the match to bring it back to 16-14.
As the game ticked inside the final minute it looked like the Queensland Intrust Super Cup winners would earn another piece of silverware, but with 16 seconds left the Jets had one last set.
Billy Magoulias put in a chip kick, it bounced into the arms of Jackson Ferris and he ran away to score with two seconds remaining. It triggered scenes of elation from Kennedy and his team-mates.
READ MORE: Mortimer inks two-year deal to lead CYMS
READ MORE: Oberon fails to fill committee roles at AGM
"We just tend to fall behind and then somehow we get home at the end," Magoulias said.
"I just put a kick in there, he got the bounce, got into space and that was the end of it.
"All the boys love playing for Newtown and we took this one as NSW versus Queensland. I didn't want to lose to those blokes. There's nothing worse and I'll do anything to try and win."
Kennedy's next challenge will be to push for more NRL experience with Cronulla, the Jets being a feeder club for the Sharks.
Kennedy recently signed a one-year contract extension with the Sharks, but knows he needs a big pre-season to add to the games he played against the Panthers and Broncos.
"I got a taste of it, so looking forward to a new season and see how it goes. I think another pre-season with the NRL boys will give me a lot of experience and help me out through the season," he said.
"Probably my size is something to work on in the pre-season and probably my combinations with other players as well.
"I didn't expect to get a shot, but my coach is pretty good and believed in me. I am just grateful for the opportunity he gave me."
His coach at the Jets, Greg Matterson, is confident he can take that next step.
"Kennedy's a star," Matterson said. "When he puts on a bit of weight he'll be in the NRL next year.
"He just needed to get a bit stronger and another pre-season. He's starting to thicken up and then he'll handle the tough stuff."
Importantly for Kennedy, Sharks mentor John Morris sees that potential too.
"Will has been a part of our elite pathways system since he was in the under 18s and we have high hopes for his future," Morris said.
"His goal is to play more NRL in 2020 and after another pre-season, if he can continue to develop and improve there is no reason why he won't."