Ever wondered where Jacob Lillyman is drawing inspiration from as he enters the back end of his Telstra Premiership career? Look no further than Kevin Campion - one of rugby league’s true hard nuts.
The two-time premiership winner with the Brisbane Broncos (1998 and 2000) crossed paths with a starry-eyed Lillyman at the North Queensland Cowboys in 2003 and 2004. Campion was in the final two years of his career and Lillyman was on his way to making his NRL debut in latter stages of the 2003 campaign.
Campion’s rugged style over 12 years of first grade at six clubs was delivered via hit-ups rather than hysteria. Those values left a lasting impression on Lillyman as he ventures to Newcastle on a one-year deal.
He knows that at 33 he is now a senior statesman and he’s drawing on his memories of Campion to provide a little wisdom to the younger Knights forwards.
“I just really liked his leadership style, how he went about things,” Lillyman told NRL.com.
“He wasn’t out there barking orders, he led by example. But when he spoke, people would stop in their tracks and listen. Really one of the things about being an older player is leading by example. That is a real privilege and something I want to do.
“If you show these young guys the way, they’ll follow you. So I had a pretty good mentor in Campo when I was coming through. I’d like to do something like that at the Knights.”
Two of the beneficiaries will be the 21-year-old Saifiti twins, Daniel and Jacob.
“I’ve watched them from afar the last two years, and I think the ‘Twin Towers’ is a pretty good nickname for them. They are massive boys,” Lillyman said, before adding it would take him “months to tell them apart.
“They are certainly the ones who are impressing in the game right now among the crop of young front rowers. They have a lot to offer and I’m really looking forward to working with them.”
Knights coach Nathan Brown pursued Lillyman because of his 250-games of NRL experience and 14 appearances for the Maroons on the Origin stage.
After the Knights missed out on other distinguished front-row material in Matt Scott, James Graham and Adam Blair, Lillyman could be forgiven for thinking he was a fourth-choice option.
“I don’t look at it in any other way than it’s a good opportunity for me to come to a new club,” Lillyman said. “It’s a fresh start and a chance to impart some knowledge and things I’ve picked up over all the years I’ve been playing NRL.
“We’ve got a really good young squad here and I’m certainly looking forward to helping a lot of those guys in their development … helping them to become better players.”
It has been a healthy and lengthy career – 62 games at the Cowboys and 188 at the Warriors.
Lillyman celebrates his 16th season in 2018 but he’s reliving some of those tentative steps in Townsville all those years ago as he knows very few of his Knights teammates. One that is familiar is former Townsville Brothers junior and Maroons teammate, Aidan Guerra.
“I get on very well with him. It’s good to have a familiar face when you start somewhere new. Normally at every NRL club you’ll know a handful of guys but to be honest, coming to this club I knew nobody – but Aidan.
“I don’t know how long I’ve got left in the game. So I came across (from Warriors) knowing it was a young club. I feel I can offer a bit to them and help them. So I want to play my part in taking this team back to where they deserve to be.
“Newcastle is a great rugby league town. Even though they’ve come last the past couple of years, the town still loves the Knights players and embraces them. I’d love to be a part of a successful Newcastle Knights team. That would be awesome. I think we’re capable of anything.”