After a horror 2012 season and disastrous start to 2013, Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman says the Warriors have finally regained the self-belief that deserted them during their 11-game losing streak.
But it took that disastrous trip to Penrith in Round 10 to wake them from their slumber.
Having only narrowly avoided the wooden spoon last year, the Warriors again struggled during the early rounds this year under new coach Matthew Elliott, with just two wins from their first 10 games. However, having secured a rare victory at home to Newcastle two weeks ago, they scored their biggest ever win over the Broncos last Monday night (56-18) with Lillyman telling NRL.com that the Kiwi club was finally turning the corner.
“It’s funny how that self-belief can take a real battering when you haven’t won many games for a while,” he said.
“We took a lot of hits last year and I know that there have been times when we have doubted ourselves. It hasn’t been easy. The more you lose the harder it gets.
“But we proved a lot to ourselves with the way we fought back from that Penrith game and then to do what we did last week… it has really helped restore some of our self-belief. We’ve probably had a performance like that in us all along but until you do it you can sometimes forget that.”
Lillyman credited a serious heart-to-heart by the entire playing group after their 62-6 capitulation to the Panthers for the dramatic turnaround.
“Those were some very, very dark days,” he told NRL.com. “We all sat down and spoke at length about it and we were brutally honest in our assessment. We knew there was no point beating around the bush – we had to lay it all on the line. As individuals we all had to be held accountable and it was important that we all put our hands up and admitted that we had to do more for the team.
“That’s where it all started. But it’s one thing to say it – we still had to come out and perform and it’s been very pleasing to see the way we’ve responded the past two weeks. It’s just a shame it had to come to that.”
Despite the Warriors’ early struggles this season, Lillyman, who played his 150th NRL game in last week’s big win over Brisbane, said he has enjoyed his time under Elliott in 2013.
“He’s actually very different to what I expected,” the 29-year-old said. “From what I had seen on TV I thought he was going to be very cranky and intense but he’s not like that at all. He’s actually very composed and he is a good person to be around.
“Obviously it was going to take some time to adjust to having him, as well as Thomas Leuluai arriving at the club this year but he has brought some interesting ideas and I think we’re just starting to adjust to what he is trying to do now.
“The important thing is that we’re making progress so we just need to keep doing that.”
Lillyman himself has played a significant role in the Warriors’ improvement over the past fortnight. Like most in the black jersey, he was awful against Penrith with just 43 metres but ran for 123 metres against Newcastle and 159 against the Broncos.
“I started a bit slowly this year and I had an ankle injury that really slowed me down to,” said Lillyman, who had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Ben Hannant for Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener before being overlooked in favour of the four back-rowers Queensland went with on their bench.
“Obviously I heard my name mentioned a little bit in regards to Origin but I wasn’t really expecting anything and it hasn’t been something I’ve thought about a lot this year.
“I’ve just been looking to get back to my best and do what I can for the Warriors. Hopefully I’ve started to achieve that the past few weeks.”
The Warriors are now eyeing three straight wins for the first time since 2011 but face a much tougher task on Sunday against a Manly side firmly entrenched in the NRL top four.
“They are a really tough and physical side so we know we’ll have to improve again to beat them,” Lillyman said.
“But as I said, we’re starting to feel good about what we’re doing and we’ll be looking to take that confidence into this weekend.”