Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman will return to Townsville to face his former club the Cowboys on Saturday. Copyright: Renee McKay/NRL Photos

Lillyman expects fiery 'homecoming'

Trips back home to North Queensland are usually the first dates circled on Jacob Lillyman’s calendar.

Catching up with family and friends and re-connecting with the place where his footy career began back in 2003 is always nice.

But right now he could really do without it.

“It’s a pretty daunting trip, they are seen as one of the premiership favourites and have a really good team with attacking threats all over the park,” the 30-year-old Warriors prop said.

Indeed a lengthy trip to sweltering 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville is hardly the ideal situation for Lillyman’s side to get their season back on track. Especially given their struggles with the increased pace of the game this year.

Having questionable edge defence when you are coming up against two of the NRL’s form attacking players in Jason Taumalolo and Johnathan Thurston might be worrying them too.

“You have got to fight fire with fire. They roll down the field really well and have some good big ball carriers,” Lillyman said.
 
“You have to take them on as well through the middle and try and take a bit of steam out of them. It’s a pretty simple recipe but pretty hard to execute.”

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The last time the Warriors tasted success in Townsville was 2002, at that time the man they call ‘Bull’ was just a calf, waiting for his shot in the big time.

“I was there and I think I would have watched that game - it would have been my last year of high school.
 
“I would have witnessed that [the last victory there] so hopefully that’s a bit of an omen and we can do the same,” he laughs.

Last year big Jacob averaged 97 metres per game and nearly 23 tackles, producing reliable performances which have made him a favourite in Auckland.

Those stats, and the security that comes with knowing Lillyman will be named in the squad each week, has made the 164-game veteran a popular NRL Fantasy purchase too.

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Despite growing up in the tropics, Lillyman, who has represented Queensland on six occasions, said the last six years spent in not-so-tropical Auckland have well and truly removed any advantage he may have in the conditions.

“The humidity makes the ball a lot more slippery so possession is a big thing playing up there, hopefully we can complete our sets and build some pressure.

“We have done some preparation in the heat chamber, doing some sessions in there with it pretty hot.

“We have also done a little bit of stuff with slippery balls to mimic those conditions up there. We have been preparing for it for a while.”

Only three players remain his days as a Cowboy - Scott Bolton, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott - with clashes against the latter always a highlight for Lillyman, who has watched Scott come through the ranks to now be regarded as one of the best big boppers in the game.

“Whenever you are playing against your old team or old friends you tend to lift a bit.  I am really looking forward to getting out there against them.”

It will take a brave fan to tip against the home team Cowboys on Saturday: the last six games between these clubs have been won by the home team, dating back to 2009.