Late-bloomer Littlejohn biding his time
Wests Tigers reserve half Jack Littlejohn is content biding his time and improving his game behind senior men Mitch Moses and Luke Brooks for now but is hopeful a full-time NRL opportunity isn't too far away.
The former Rooster, Bulldog and Sea Eagle is heading into just his seventh NRL game – his third with the Wests Tigers – as he takes advantage of a short-term knee injury to Brooks.
The 24-year-old produced a composed 80 minutes in last weekend's 26-14 win over the Cowboys at Leichhardt – and his kicking game took pressure off Moses late in the game, earning the praise of his coach Jason Taylor.
Speaking ahead of the vital Campbelltown clash, Littlejohn told NRL.com Taylor had helped him work on his development as a playmaker and while he is signed at Concord for next year, would contemplate an opportunity that gave him a more regular starting spot thereafter.
"A lot of different aspects of my game need to be better," Littlejohn said.
"[Taylor] has really helped me with my kicking game and [assistant coach David] Kidwell has helped with my tackling and getting in front and not letting blokes run though me. I'm definitely working hard to get better."
The Wagga product has one advantage over other halves trying to make their way into grade and that's size – at close to 100 kilograms he's less chance of getting bumped off than smaller playmakers and his defence has been a feature of his six NRL games to date.
"A couple of times [in the lower grades] my defence hasn't been too good but every time I've played first grade it's been really solid and that's something I really pride myself on, trying to be the best defender I possibly can. Having that 97-kilo frame behind me helps!" he laughed.
Although Littlejohn is older than either of the club's first-choice halves, he describes himself as a late bloomer in rugby league terms and hopes a regular NRL spot lies in his future.
"Different players are all different, we mature at different ages and stages in life and lately my football has come a long way and hopefully it keeps getting better," he said.
"[At Manly] I was probably sitting behind Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans for a couple of years, I didn't get many games there and now I've come over here and I'm sitting behind two quality halves again but I knew that when I signed here.
"They needed a bit of depth and maybe one day I'll change my position and get a bench spot or something but at this time I'll just keep plugging away in the Intrust Super Premiership and try and play some good footy and whenever I get the chance take it with both hands and hopefully one day I'll get a starting spot somewhere.
"I'm just going to keep working on my game. I learned a lot under Daly and Foran at Manly and I'm learning a lot here with these two young boys as well. I'll just keep developing, I might be a bit more of a late bloomer but hopefully I'll get a starting spot one day and hold down a spot."
Senior Tigers forward Elijah Taylor had plenty of praise for Littlejohn in his short stints filling in for Brooks so far this year.
"He's been really good. Just the energy that he brings to the team when he's playing, you can always see him pushing up, you can always see him leading the kick chase," Taylor told NRL.com.
"He reminds me of Kieran Foran and they both come from Manly and he's a runner as well, he takes the line on and he's got a solid kicking game. He's playing really well.
"It will be good with another game under his belt, he'll be feeling better for it, better for the run. As forwards we need to lay the platform, give them some ruck speed and momentum so they can play on the front foot.
"A lot of halves play early and they don't want to go to the line. It's good. The enthusiasm definitely rubs off on you."