League: Lillyman not bothered if Kasiano takes his spot

By Steve Deane

Kiwi-born Sam Kasiano is rumoured to be under consideration for Queensland in State of Origin. Picture / Getty Images
Kiwi-born Sam Kasiano is rumoured to be under consideration for Queensland in State of Origin. Picture / Getty Images

Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman will take it on the chin if Kiwi Sam Kasiano pips him for a spot in the decisive third State of Origin match.

Having performed well for Queensland in two games last year and recently returned to top form after a lengthy injury layoff, Lillyman would seem the obvious candidate should the Queensland selectors opt to replace underperforming forward Dave Taylor. However, reports in Australian media have suggested Queensland will instead make a play for massive Bulldogs forward Kasiano - an Aucklander who has twice pledged his loyalty to New Zealand in writing in recent months.

Lillyman insisted he would not be too bothered if a spot that could be his instead went to a player with an at best tenuous link to Queensland.

"If I am perfectly honest I'm not too fazed by it," Lillyman said. "If he decides he wants to play for Queensland and the selectors want to pick him, then obviously I haven't been playing good enough. I'm not going to let that sort of stuff bother me.

If they want to pick me then they'll pick me, if not then I am not going to go kicking stones."

Lillyman, though, does believe the eligibility rules need addressing to help prevent media storms such as the one that surrounded James Tamou's defection to New South Wales.

"It's not a good thing for the game. I think they need to make a stand. Maybe kids coming into the 20s have to declare their allegiance, just so it is not played out in the media like it has been."

Feleti Mateo, another fringe Origin candidate at the Warriors, who is an outside chance to replace injured Manly forward Glenn Stewart in the New South Wales side, said he, too, would have no problem missing out to a Kiwi.

"If someone is better than me then so be it," Mateo said. "If they are eligible to play let them play. It's a hard topic because there are so many different stories and cases, but I am a big believer that the best players play."

A caveat in all of this is that Kasiano has not, in fact, been selected by Queensland. Beyond speculation in Sydney newspapers, there is no solid information that he will be. In April, the Otahuhu product signed an NZRL declaration confirming his desire to play for the Kiwis, while as recently as last month he elected New Zealand when declaring his eligibility on his contract with the Bulldogs,

Former Kiwis and Queensland coach Graham Lowe, however, described those declarations as meaningless.

"You might as well use them to start the barbecue."

Instead of pledges the NZRL should pay potential players and lock them into contracts, Lowe said. He also felt little sympathy for the NZRL should Kasiano follow in Tamou's footsteps and switch allegiance.

"It's no good crying over spilt milk," Lowe said. "They had the opportunity to pick both of these players and they didn't. It's no good naming a 500-man squad and saying they are in that. You have got to put your balls on the line and say, 'Right, they are test players - we want them and they are in the team."'

The latest tug of war over a Kiwi talent was a worrying sign for the international game, Warriors coach Brian McClennan said.

"We are heading into dangerous territory here. Protect international football. It's the pinnacle and we've got to protect that. I love the State of Origin too, the theatre of it and the drama. But to have that become the main event is just dangerous.

"We are going to have to get some rules. Whatever they are is down to the administrators, but we are heading into dangerous territory here."

Warriors signing Thomas Leuluai is out of action after breaking his leg playing for the International Exiles against England at the weekend. Early reports suggest Leuluai will be fully over the injury by the time he links with the Warriors next season.

- NZ Herald

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