Wests Tigers expect dumped Queensland prop David Shillington to play like a man possessed against them for Canberra at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night.
Shillington began the State of Origin series as a starting prop for the Maroons, moving up from his regular bench position at that level to take the spot vacated by the retirement of Petero Civoniceva at the end of last season.
But instead of staying there as Queensland continued its bid for an eighth straight series win, Shillington was sacked – along with veteran back-rower Ashley Harrison – after NSW won Game One 14-6.
So, instead of having this weekend off from club football with the rest of the Origin stars in preparation for Origin II on Wednesday, Shillington will play for the Raiders.
Shillington has been playing off the bench for Canberra recently, which was taken by many as an indication that he hasn’t been in top form, and he will again be on the bench against the Tigers.
But Tigers second-rower Liam Fulton said his team was expecting Shillington, who played for Australia as recently as last season, to be fired up for a big game.
“He’s been a big part of Queensland’s success over the last few years and I was surprised he wasn’t in the team for Game Two,” Fulton said. “I was kind of banking on him being picked, because then we wouldn’t have to play him.
“We know what we’re going to get from Shillington, but we’ve got some good front-rowers who will be keen to play against him. We’ve lost ‘Woodsy’ (prop Aaron Woods) to the NSW team, but hopefully the rest of our guys will be up to the task.”
The Tigers have had a heap of injuries across the board this season, but prop is one of their worst-affected positions. Keith Galloway and Matt Bell have been out long term, and now they have to do without Woods as well.
Adam Blair, usually picked as a back-rower, has been starting at prop recently along with Woods, and now 20-year-old Jack Buchanan will start in place of Woods.
Buchanan has played in all 13 games for the Tigers this season, but mostly from the bench. Fulton says he is confident Buchanan can react to the challenge similarly to how well the then 20-year-old Woods handled it when he was fast-tracked into the team two years ago.
“There were a couple of injured players and Woodsy took the opportunity with both hands,” Fulton said. “Hopefully, Jack’s going to be like that as well.
“We’ve got a good young squad, and while some of these boys might be getting their first-grade debuts earlier than expected, Jack has played every game this year and surprised himself with how well he’s gone.
“I know he does a lot of extra training to try and maintain himself mentally and physically, so he’s doing the best he can and he’s having a great season so far.”
After following a seven-match losing streak with narrow wins over the Cowboys (22-20) and Panthers (20-18), the Tigers were well beaten by the Broncos last Monday. The Tigers led 6-0, but weren’t in control for long as the Broncos overran them to win 32-12.
“We started all right, but we’re missing a lot of players,” Fulton said. “It was always going to be tough up there without guys like Robbie Farah and Chris Lawrence – they’re two of our main strike players.
“We’ve got a lot of young players in the team at the moment and they’re going to be better every run they have. Hopefully, we can just continue and get some good results as the young guys keep getting better and us old guys keep putting in.
“Everyone’s having a good time at training, and we all enjoy each other’s company. We were pretty confident going up to Brisbane, but it just didn’t work out.”
The Tigers now have to deal with a quick turnaround of just five days against a Raiders outfit that is coming off two straight wins and won’t have played for seven days.
“That’s just the way it is,” Fulton said. “Everyone has to do it sometimes. You get used to it after a while, I suppose.
“We got back on Tuesday. We did recovery up there in Brisbane in the morning, and when the flight landed at 3pm the bus took us to Concord and we did another recovery session.
“On Wednesday, we trained in the afternoon, Thursday rest day, Friday captain’s run and the game on Saturday.”
The Raiders are missing several players due to injury, suspension and Origin duty, but are still much better off than the injury-smashed Tigers.
“They’ve got a great team,” Fulton said. “Reece Robinson is playing great from the back, and ‘Campo’ (Terry Campese) is running the show really well. We can’t look at them any differently just because they’ve lost a couple of players – we’ve got plenty of players out.
“They’ve got a great young squad and to beat them we’ll have to be at the top of our game.”