'Bopper' Lillyman shows true grit
On a night when front-rowers featured heavily, the Warriors were propped up wonderfully by a wounded Jacob Lillyman in their 16-12 victory over the Sharks on Sunday.
Minutes into the contest at Mount Smart Stadium it became evident that the game, which many had labelled as a potential cakewalk for the Warriors, was set for an epic battle of the 'big boppers'.
Right at the forefront for the home side was Lillyman, who ran for 155 metres off 17 carries and clocked up 28 tackles, despite carrying an ankle ligament strain into the match.
“It was one of those days where you needed to roll the sleeves up. It wasn’t the most polished performance,” Lillyman told NRL.com.
“I guess some games you tend to find yourself in a few more tackles, they went up through the middle a bit, but you know when you have done a bit of work, the lungs feel it and it will be nice to have a rest over the next few days.
“It was a pretty tight contest, we weren’t creating too many opportunities out wide so we had to gain that momentum in the middle.
“(The ankle) was pretty sore at the start of the week and pretty swollen, but it felt alright coming into today.
“When you get tackled and it gets twisted (there is pain), but nothing to aggravate it too much, so hopefully it should feel good next week.”
The grit Lillyman showed for the cause was surpassed only by that of his opposite number Andrew Fifita, who played through most of the game with a broken arm and was once again among the Sharks’ best.
Along with interchange weapon Ben Matulino, Lillyman was the only Warriors forward to run for over 100 metres against a stubborn Sharks side who held the New Zealanders scoreless for the entire second half.
Captain Simon Mannering paid tribute to the efforts of Lillyman post-match, also singling out winger Manu Vatuvei who capped off a wonderful individual performance with a try and 200 running metres from 19 carries.
“Those guys definitely led us in that back 20 – Manu as well was great all game,” Mannering said.
“We didn’t play how we wanted to and stick to what we wanted, but when it counted those guys definitely put their hand up, so that’s a positive.”
Meanwhile Lillyman was one of several Warriors to show concerns for the health of former Maroons centre Dane Nielsen, who was the victim of a Sam Tagataese tackle gone wrong early in the second half.
Nielsen didn’t return to the field after landing heavily on his back in the tackle, and was visibly unwell in the sheds following the match.
“It was pretty disappointing to see what happened to Dane,” Lillyman said.
“He has got a fair headache at the moment, but hopefully he can rest up over the next few days and be right for the weekend.
“Big Sammy (Tagataese), I know he is not that type of player, he came into the sheds and apologised and that is unfortunately one of those things that happens.”