Any trip back to Townsville is special for the man known as ‘Bull’, this one arguably more than any of the others he has made with the Vodafone Warriors.
The 32-year-old Jacob Lillyman lines up for his 165th appearance for the club in Saturday night’s 24th-round clash against the North Queensland Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium (7.30pm kick-off local time; 9.30pm NZT).
Brought up near Richmond, a village of only about 500 inhabitants 500kms west of Townsville, Lillyman is as proud as any Queenslander; he was again of Queensland’s winning State of Origin team this year, lifting his Origin career tally to 13 matches.
At club level, though, he is far more Vodafone Warrior than Cowboy. He played 62 times for North Queensland before joining the Mount Smart Stadium club in 2009 and owns the record for the most appearances for the Vodafone Warriors by an Australian player (overtaking Micheal Luck’s 150-game mark this season). He ranks ninth on the club’s all-time list with Awen Guttenbeil (170) and Sam Rapira (173) just ahead of him.
Across his eight seasons with the Vodafone Warriors, Lillyman has been consistency personified. He can be relied on game after game to do what’s required and expected of him albeit with a few more audacious moments this season when he has surprised rivals by popping up at first receiver to lay on a couple of tries.
What he does best so efficiently and effectively is to play solid minutes, carry the ball well in excess of 100 metres regularly, defend impressively and make next to no errors.
In 19 matches this season his game averages have been 48 minutes on the field with 13 runs, 111 metres and 27 tackles while he has made just five errors. Only Thomas Leuluai of the regular players can match his error count. By way of comparison his averages last year were 46 minutes, 12.5 runs, 115 metres and 24 tackles a game with a total of just five errors. Through any season the story has been much the same.
This will be just the fifth time the Vodafone Warriors have played in Townsville in the eight years Lillyman has been with the club. He played in each of the previous four meetings when they were well beaten in 2011 and 2012 before winning 20-16 in 2014 and then losing 24-28 in cruel circumstances last year.
The last two were played early in the campaign, the one in 2011 in June and in 2012 late in a long streak of losses as the end of the year.
That’s why this one is so much more critical for Lillyman and his team-mates as they take on his one-time club. Both teams are desperate for success, the 2015 premier North Queensland seeking to end a run of three losses to revive their campaign and the Vodafone Warriors needing victory to stay on track for their first taste of finals football in five seasons.