NRL: Lillyman - Players need to front up

By Michael Brown

The Warriors have to get over the horror losses of the last few weeks. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Warriors have to get over the horror losses of the last few weeks. Photo / Greg Bowker

Brian McClennan was held accountable for the Warriors' results this season and paid for it with his job but prop Jacob Lillyman said the players need to take their share of responsibility for their former coach's departure.

McClennan was sacked on Monday after a run of six-straight defeats and the club have signalled their desire to chase a recognised name to take over as they try to find someone to bring the sort of success to match the ambitions of their owners.

Assistant Tony Iro has been given the reigns for the last two weeks of the season. It's something akin to a job interview for him and he hopes his side respond how a lot of teams do when their coach is sacked, starting with the Dragons on Saturday night.

Lillyman said they owed it to everyone, not least of all McClennan, to finish the season strongly.

"You could hang your head and say the season is gone, it's finished, and take the easy option," he said.

"But I think it's a great opportunity for us to make a statement.

"It's been a very tough year. We have let a lot of people down, including Bluey, so now is just about getting out there and finishing the season as positively as we can and instil a bit more pride in the jersey and maybe give the fans a bit more confidence going into next year that there is the makings of a very good team here.

"We feel responsible. We are the ones out there. We are pretty sheltered. We aren't as held as accountable as the coach. Bluey did a great job. He worked as hard as any coach in the NRL. He was just dealt cruel blows with regard to injuries and probably luck in a few games. Had a few things gone his way, it would have been totally different."

Injuries, particularly to senior players, took a significant toll but McClennan also made considerable changes to the Warriors' style from that implemented by former coach Ivan Cleary.

He opted for a more expansive game plan, as opposed to Cleary's grinding style, and it was to the detriment of their defence which had proved largely sound over the past couple of seasons.

It was a more "New Zealand" approach but it's understood it wasn't something all players bought into. Lillyman, however, disputes suggestions McClennan had lost certain sections of the dressing room.

"For me, he had the dressing room," he said.

"The boys really liked Bluey and had a lot of respect for him. Things went against him and it turned out to be a pretty disappointing season for all involved."

Iro is limited to what he can do in terms of the game plan as well as personnel changes with so many players still on the sidelines.

"With two weeks to go, it's a little hard to be changing too much," he said. "I have given them a simple plan, one I hope will suit a style against St George. Nothing majorly different. All I have said to them is I want a good attitude and a performance they can be proud of so they can walk back into Auckland airport with their heads held high.

"There's still a lot of talk going around and I know a few of the boys feel and share that responsibility for Bluey going but, at the end of the day, it's footy. We just have to get on with it."

- APNZ

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