Warrior Lillyman loving life as a Kiwi
Within Origin camp his Maroons teammates love Jacob Lillyman's country Queensland demeanour but the Warriors prop says he has no intention of returning to Australia after seven years in New Zealand.
But just don't call him a Kiwi.
Lillyman is one of two New Zealand-based players lining up in Game One of the 2015 Holden State of Origin Series with new Warriors recruit Ryan Hoffman turning out for New South Wales for the 12th time on Wednesday night.
Currently contracted at the Warriors through until the end of the 2017 season, Lillyman is often the forgotten man of Origin once the conversation stars up and down the Australian eastern seaboard but is one of Queensland coach Mal Meninga's most valued foot soldiers.
Ten of the Maroons who will take to the field for the Series opener play for Queensland-based NRL clubs and while many return to the state where they grew up, Lillyman insists he is loving every minute of living in New Zealand.
"To be honest I've really enjoyed my time over there and really settled in well," said Lillyman. "Auckland is a great place to live, New Zealand is a great place to live. When you've got a couple of days off and you want to duck off somewhere there's absolutely beautiful country and with the club, the direction that it's going in, I didn't have any hesitation in committing for a couple more years."
When Hoffman runs out for the Blues he will become just the sixth Warriors player to have played State of Origin while based in New Zealand – and the first New South Welshman – and Lillyman admitted that although Origin has a massive following across the ditch, he does wonder whether Queensland selectors are watching his progress.
"It's massive over there. It surprised me when I first got there just how big Origin was and they're split pretty evenly 50-50 too," Lillyman said of the state divide. "It's a massive night in Auckland and throughout New Zealand and they really get behind it.
"I don't hear from any of them (the selectors) and you do wonder if you're out of sight and out of mind and I guess for the most part you are with the public and people in Queensland.
"I do know that they keep an eye on us. Whenever I've got picked Mal's had a yarn to me about my game and what he's happy with so they do watch but it's probably more of a surprise to everyone else in Queensland because I am out of sight/out of mind for them."
A starting front-rower for Queensland in the absence of Matt Scott in Game Three last year, Lillyman has the responsibility of matching the massive Blues bench when he comes onto the field but has the backing of some high-profile teammates.
"He's got a low centre of gravity so he charges into the line, he's got no self preservation for his body and he just crashes into the line like there's no tomorrow and that's what you need at this level," said former Cowboys teammate Johnathan Thurston.
"He's just a real country kid. He brings Richmond with him everywhere he goes. He's quite a humorous lad, he's enjoyable to be around, he's one of those boys who's just constantly geeing other players up so he's non-stop in that way and very fun to have in camp."
Currently sitting in eighth position on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, the Warriors have three home games during the Origin period and are expected to make a significant move upwards in the coming weeks.
Although he admits he has been excited – and surprised – by the signings of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke for next season, Lillyman said it was beholden on the 2015 squad to give their fans some finals football for the first time in four years.
"There have been a couple of big signings and ones that I've got to be honest, I didn't expect," said the 31-year-old. "They were right out of the blue for me and while it is exciting we've got a great roster this year and we've got to make the most of this year.
"We've had a couple of lean years and we owe it to everyone to have a good year. A couple of good wins – some might say lucky – but they're on the board going into the bye and hopefully we can gain a bit of momentum throughout the next month or so."