Lillyman enlists for secret service
If Jacob Lillyman does the job his coach is asking but you don't happen to notice him, did he actually contribute?
In the modern rugby league world of metres gained, offloads and other statistical data that punters pore over to garner the value of a player's performance, Lillyman's club coach Andrew McFadden has got the Richmond-born front-rower working to a different set of KPIs.
Lillyman gets his first shot in the starting Queensland side on Wednesday night after six previous Origin appearances and he credits a more consistent season at the Warriors – along with the injury to good mate Matthew Scott – with his maiden spot in the run-on side.
Since taking over in Round 6 following the sacking of head coach Matthew Elliott, McFadden has guided the Warriors to a win-loss record of 6-4 with two byes in the mix to push them into seventh spot through 17 rounds.
Only once in 15 NRL games this season has Lillyman failed to bust through the 100-metre mark for the Warriors (with an average of 133m per game) but that's not how his club coach measures his performance.
"His are largely based around special efforts and efforts off the ball and those sorts of things, those one-per-centers," Lillyman said. "Just with the middle boys it's a lot of things like kick pressure, inside pressure on the halves, effectiveness in tackles and that sort of thing, that's what he measures us on and those are the things that we're constantly working on.
"You'll know within yourself how you've performed and whether you've done a good job without looking at the stats sheets so that's how I'll be judging myself."
It is perhaps unfair but regardless of how he measures his own performance, Lillyman's contribution will be compared with what former Cowboys teammate Scott may have delivered if he hadn't suffered facial fractures early in Game Two.
Like Shane Webcke almost a decade ago, getting over the top of Scott was seen as a key pillar of New South Wales' asserting dominance in the middle third and Lillyman knows he is stepping in to fill some rather large boots.
"Matty is a big loss, he's been such a big part of this team over the last however many years and probably been the form front-rower for the same amount of time," the 30-year-old said.
"It does leave a big hole there but it's just about me coming in and performing my role as best I can and trying to do the jersey justice. Matty's a good mate of mine so he might have a few words of advice for me."
In five seasons together at the Cowboys between 2004 and 2008 Lillyman and Scott only turned out in the same team on 37 occasions before the elder of the pair went looking for new challenges in a foreign land.
A dislocated left shoulder against the Storm in Round 15, 2008 ended Lillyman's Townsville tenure but he conceded that he needed to leave the comforts of home in order to fulfil his potential.
"Growing up in North Queensland coming through the ranks there there's always that thought that you want to be a one-club player but I knew I needed a change," Lillyman said.
"I was getting a bit stale and very inconsistent and wasn't performing at the level that I needed to. I knew I needed a change and it was a pretty big one going over there and certainly haven't regretted it.
"I've loved my time over there and had some really good times and hopefully a few more to come."
Five years now a Kiwi and the twang normally associated with North Queenslanders has dissipated over time but rather than switching his allegiances to New Zealand to pursue higher representative honours, Lillyman would love to take Australia's showpiece rugby league event to the land of the long white cloud.
"I reckon it would be massive; it would sell out in the click of the fingers," said of a future Origin fixture being played in New Zealand. "They've got a great venue over there at Eden Park that they could hold it at and honestly, it's so big I think it would be massive, especially for rugby league in New Zealand if they took an Origin across there.
"It would be unreal. They sort of talk about it, they'd love to see it happen and I can't endorse it highly enough."