When chaos rears its ugly head in rugby league, it’s nice to know you have some senior figures around to help steady the ship.
After the tumultuous week the Warriors have had, started on Monday with the resignation of coach Matt Elliott and later blown up by scathing remarks from their part-owner, new coach Andrew McFadden is thankful for old heads Jacob Lillyman and Nathan Friend.
“All our leaders play a part in a week like this. It is obviously very difficult and senior players and myself need to absorb as much of that as possible,” McFadden said.
“It’s not easy for young kids to go through this sort of stuff.”
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As well as being pillars of strength through the coaching change, the pair have also been the Warriors’ best on-field performers so far in 2014.
Friend leads the competition in tackles made with 262, including a colossal 70 last week as his team got demolished 37-6 by the Sharks. The 33-year-old has been busier than ever on the ball too, with a team high three try assists.
His clash with fiery Bulldogs rake Michael Ennis this week will be his biggest test to date.
“I am starting to feel OK out there in the middle; it takes a while to get back to match fitness,” said Friend, who battled a shoulder injury last year.
“I probably need to take more opportunities when they present themselves at dummy half. I sat down with Cappy (McFadden) and had a chat, I think there are some opportunities that we need to take advantage of.”
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Lillyman too seems to be getting better with age and in his 11th season of NRL football is leading the way up front for the New Zealand club.
“I just want to be consistent week-in week-out. Early in my career I was a bit up and down but now I’m just about at a point where I want to find that consistency and play my part in the team’s success,” he said.
The 30-year-old former Cowboy tops his side in metres made, with an impressive average of 149 per match off the bench. Consistency is his major attribute though; so far this season there hasn’t been a game where he has run for less than 100 metres.
He will need to be at his best this week if the Warriors are to overcome a rampant Bulldogs forward pack, who had five players run for more than 100 last week.
“I want to be involved as early as I can and stay involved, whether it be attack or defence, just do my role to the best of my ability,” Lillyman said.More Warriors news here
This week’s Warriors squad, which has an average age of 25, also gain some much needed experience with the inclusion of Thomas Leuluai as a starter.
With 11 years behind him in both the NRL and Super League competitions, as well as 31 tests for New Zealand, the versatile half makes his first start of the season, and is a welcome addition.
“He is a real leader in our team and he really wants to drive these standards. He is a winner, an international player and I know the players really want to play with him,” McFadden enthused.
Lillyman agreed, stating that the team had greatly missed Leuluai’s communication in the early stages of the year, while he recovered from a groin injury sustained at the World Cup.
“He is a really good talker and organiser, Tommy steadies the ship a bit,” Lillyman said.
“He is a real leader of our side, it’s good to have him back.”