Recalled Australian prop David Shillington is looking to put a horror year of injuries behind him and make up for lost time when the Kangaroos host New Zealand in Sunday’s Four Nations preview in Newcastle.
Still devastated at missing Darren Lockyer’s State of Origin farewell earlier this year after taking part in both the 2009 and 2010 series, Shillington said he was determined to make amends over the coming weeks as part of a new-look forward pack assembled specifically to combat the Kiwi threat.
“It’s been a really frustrating year,” he told NRL.com after injuring both knees back in Round 2, then tearing his pectoral muscle twice in the space of two months.
“Those injuries cost me the Anzac Test and the three Origins. I thought I was going to be back for that third Origin but then I re-tore my pec so it was a bit of a write-off this rep season, which was a shame. I love being part of it.
“To be honest I wasn’t super confident that I’d get picked when the team was about to get announced but I had a strong finish to the season and I’m pretty stoked to have my opportunity now.
“I said to my room-mate Keith Galloway yesterday that this isn’t just a Test match, it’s also a trial for the next game. Sheensy (coach Tim Sheens) has made that clear since 2009 that it would be week-by-week selection in this side. No positions are cemented and taken for granted.
“Everyone is capable of slotting in for other people and everyone can do just as good a job so it’s a week-by-week selection. So we want to play well in this Test and win it – but we want to play well to get picked for the next Test as well.”
Shillington is one of only three specialist props in the side for Sunday afternoon’s Test, alongside Galloway and Matthew Scott, and will come off the bench behind Paul Gallen, who impressed when named in the front row for NSW during this year’s Origin series.
Although surprised by Gallen’s selection up front, the Canberra forward said he was confident that the quartet could work well together.
“Gal played so well there in the Origin series that he sort of forced his way into this team so hopefully the balance works out well,” Shillington said. “We were laughing the other day that we’ve got the two short props starting the game and then the big tall blokes coming on after that, so it’s an interesting combo there. Hopefully we all work well together.
“I’m sure Matt Scott and Gal will get us off to a good start. They both had pretty good years and were dominant in the Origin series. Keith and I will be keen to come off the bench and prove ourselves. There will be a good competition for spots going into the series too because there are a couple of big back-rowers there that could play in the middle if they were asked. Everyone is fighting for spots and that will bring out the best in us.”
Asked his thoughts on the tactic of starting with a smaller man up front, Shillington said: “A lot of coaches think that way; it can be good for us big blokes out on the field to have a smaller, more mobile bloke beside you.
“A lot of the time when you’ve got two big blokes there working hard they will try and burn you around the ruck. I know New Zealand did that to us last year at Suncorp in the Four Nations.
“When you’ve got a smaller guy there it takes a bit of impact out of the dummy-half runs. We can combat that a bit better. But even though you’re bigger, it just means you’ve got to be more alert around the rucks. We know what they’re going to throw at us there.”
Despite missing this year’s record-breaking Origin series which saw Queensland notch their sixth consecutive series win, Shillington said he was looking forward to the opportunity to play alongside Lockyer one last time.
“It’s going to be pretty special and he deserves to go out a Four Nations winner,” he said.
“He has had a bit of bad luck the last couple of years with the World Cup (in 2008) and the Four Nations last year, so I’m sure he will be looking to go out a winner and all the boys will want to send him out that way. He has been a champion of the game.
“And coming back and deciding to play since fracturing his cheekbone… that’s a pretty brave sort of effort. After 16 years and all his rep games and club games you’d think he would say that he’d had enough but he almost played that semi (against Manly) and now he is on the Kangaroo Tour. It’s pretty tough and brave of him.”