They call him the kangaroo catcher

Michael Purcell ran the New York Marathon in front of 47,000 screaming fans as a teenager.
Michael Purcell ran the New York Marathon in front of 47,000 screaming fans as a teenager. Rob Williams

THEY call him the 'Kangaroo catcher' because he once ran a giant hopping-mad marsupial down in western Queensland.

Meet Michael Purcell, the 23-year-old flying Ipswich Jets winger and one of the most remarkable athletes to play the game because he boasts both remarkable endurance and speed off the mark.

Purcell ran the New York Marathon in front of 47,000 screaming fans as a teenager when he was part of Robert de Castella's Marathon Project, which gave Indigenous athletes high performance training while teaching valuable life lessons.

Now he is one of the first Jets players picked on the wing where he is inheriting the mantle left by Marmin Barba, who has taken a year off from the game.

"Legend has it that he ran down a kangaroo out on the plains one day,” Ipswich co-coach Shane Walker grins.

"The 'Kangaroo catcher', as we call him, is a freakish athlete.

"When someone like Michael has done all that endurance type training they generally don't have a lot of fast twitch fibres left so they are a bit one-paced and slow.

"But he is one of the fastest players in the Intrust Super Cup and scored three dazzling tries in our trial against the Broncos. Not too many guys could have scored them - a combination of anticipation, blistering speed and instinct.”

Purcell says he learned a lot about the mental side of sport and the need for hard work under Australia's favourite marathon man.

"De Castella was a role model and I looked up to him heaps,” Purcell says.

"He taught me a lot of things. Starting off he would say things like 'believe in yourself' and 'always push for that extra per cent'.

"You've got to go the extra mile to get success.

"Running in New York was a real eye opener.

"I finished the race, but a couple of times I wanted to stop.

"But the atmosphere over there, and the crowd, just keeps you going.

"All through school athletics was my passion.

"Growing up out in Charleville there wasn't many opportunities at representative level so I thought there would be more of a chance with rugby league.

"So I have moved to the city to chase my dream.”

After turning up at the Jets in the 2016 pre-season, Purcell has lived up to the hype.

"Marmin Barba was a great try scorer for us, but we are very lucky to get someone of Michael's ability to replace him,” Walker says.

"Out in western Queensland word starts to get around about blokes who can play but by the time the story gets to town the legend has grown 10-fold.

"Michael's name and brilliance would keep coming up and by the time he got here there was plenty of hype about him. But the hype is true and the legend is real.”

Walker won't be taking Purcell off the field if he has a big lead, as the following story reveals

"A friend of ours from Chinchilla, John Forde, played reserve grade with Michael,” Walker grins.

"He told us about a game where Michael scored seven tries before half time and led 42-nil. But the A Grade coach had his eye on him and took him off at half-time... and they got beat 43-42.”

We had to ask Purcell about his roo' catching exploits, and it turns out he may have caught more than just the one!

"Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. It was a good experience,” he grins.

"At school we used to have a class out on a property and we'd chase a few goats and kangaroos...but then we'd just let them go.”

But he's not letting any tries go.

"I'm just sniffing around the ball up the middle and running off the bigger fellas as they ruck it up,” he says.

"That's what Marmin did and that's the secret to scoring tries.”

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