Canberra cleaner reaches game 150
He was enticed to the bright lights of the NRL by a job paying $200 a week and a sniff of first grade but on Saturday night William Zillman will play his 150th game in the top grade against the Sharks at Remondis Stadium.
That Zillman made it past 24 career games is a testament to his strength of character after he suffered two major injuries to his anterior cruciate ligament in less than 12 months and left the Raiders at the end of the 2008 season without ever being able to his full potential.
The Titans were quick to offer the Brisbane-born Zillman a lifeline however and after 126 games for the club over the past seven seasons notches a personal milestone with the team desperate for their first win of the season.
The son of Brisbane Rugby League legend Mark Zillman, William left Brisbane for an opportunity at the Raiders as a 17-year-old in 2004 but says it was a fry cry from the enticements offered talented youngsters coming through the game today.
"I was just really happy with the opportunity they were giving me," Zillman recalled as he prepares for game No.150.
"I'd only just turned 17 and they offered me a job at the club as a rouseabout – cleaning dressing rooms and things like that – but the positive was that I got to train with first grade and for a 17-year-old that was a pretty special thing to me.
"[I got paid] a couple of hundred a week but I was fortunate that they had put me up at the AIS – there were four of us there – and as a young guy going to Canberra not knowing anyone that's an exceptionally good place to live. It really eases the transition."
A member of the 2005 Junior Kangaroos, Zillman earned his NRL debut in Round 2, 2006 and despite scoring two tries from fullback, he and the Raiders finished on the end of a 70-32 thumping by the Knights.
Stuck behind Clinton Schifcoske, Zillman played just three NRL games in 2006 but after making the fullback position his own in 2007, ruptured his ACL in Round 21 that season. In Round 2, 2008 he suffered a similar fate and was ruled out for the season with a second knee reconstruction in less than 12 months.
"It was a shock. I never really had any injuries as a kid, it was my first major injury ever so it was a tough 12-18 months for me but I certainly learnt a lot from it," said the 28-year-old.
"I didn't have any family or friends down there but by that time I obviously had many good friends at the club.
"Luckily for me but unluckily for them there were a couple of other guys who had ACLs as well around about the same time. Phil Graham and Lincoln Withers, I remember the three of us basically had that whole year together training and that makes it slightly easier.
"It was tough because I'd only played 22 games when I had my first reconstruction and 24 games when I had my second so it wasn't the best start to a career but I guess I was fortunate that the Titans showed a lot of faith in me and for the years following that I was fairly lucky injury wise."
Entrenched as the Titans' fullback for the past three seasons, Zillman has been forced into a job-sharing arrangement with Broncos recruit Josh Hoffman through the first three rounds of 2015.
Zillman started the first two games at fullback with Hoffman at left centre, the pair alternating between positions throughout the game. Hoffman will wear the No.1 jersey for the second straight week against the Sharks and Zillman will start in the centres as coach Neil Henry tinkers with the best way to maximise the input of both players.
"It's probably something that may take a couple of games to get used to," Zillman said. "Now that we've had three games in that sort of rotation it should be getting a little bit easier but hopefully it can continue to work and we'll see what happens with it.
"Milestones haven't been that kind to us in recent times to be honest so hopefully I can change that around. We're 0-3 at the moment so really looking for those two points this week."