Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Jacob Lillyman to reach New Zealand Warriors milestone

Jacob Lillyman. Photo / Getty
Jacob Lillyman. Photo / Getty

Popular Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman will reach a significant milestone this weekend, becoming just the 11th player to reach 150 NRL games for the club.

Lillyman is part of an unchanged lineup to face the Roosters on Sunday, with coach Andrew McFadden staying with the 17 that beat the Knights 40-18.

Sometimes if feels like Lillyman has been around forever at the Warriors, an ever present while plenty of change has happened all around him.

When Lillyman arrived at Mt Smart then coach Ivan Cleary still had three more seasons ahead of him, Prime Minister John Key was in his second year in office and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was an unknown 1st XV player at Otahuhu College.

It was 2009. Lillyman had already played State of Origin but didn't really live up to expectations in his first two seasons, struggling with injury and homesickness.

But an inspired move by Cleary - who switched him from second row to prop in 2011 - and a renewed focus from the Queenslander was the catalyst for a strong period, which has continued to this day.

While other forwards might grab more headlines, Lillyman does a tough job very well. He has averaged more than 100 running metres per game over the last five seasons, as well topping 20 tackles per match. Playing in the most physically demanding area of the field Lillyman has also been durable, missing only five of 92 games since mid-2012.

"Jake is hugely popular around the team and can always be counted on to perform at a consistently high level," said Warriors assistant coach Andrew Webster.

Lillyman was part of the `awesome foursome' propping rotation in 2011 (alongside Ben Matulino, Russell Packer and Sam Rapira) that went to the grand final but has also experienced the dark times at Mt Smart, missing the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

"There has been a few ups and downs...always is," said Lillyman last week. "But I love playing for this club and I know the potential is there."

A look through the list of others who have achieved 150 Warriors game shows the cailbre; names from the past like Stacey Jones, Lance Hohaia and Logan Swann, as well as Ben Matulino, Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei among the current team. Micheal Luck is the only other Australian to reach the mark, playing his 150th in the final game of the season in 2012.

This Sunday also marks a special moment for Tuivasa-Sheck, as he faces the Roosters for the first time since he left Bondi. His Warriors output hasn't yet matched what he achieved in Sydney but there are promising signs; Tuivasa-Sheck is still racking up significant numbers (he has ran for more than 200 metres in every game this season) and was given more opportunities last Sunday, as the timing within the Warriors backline was significantly better.

Instead of receiving the ball metres behind the advantage line and being soon encircled by defenders, Tuivasa-Sheck was given room to move and it paid dividends, with a prominent role in several Warriors' tries.

Of the 17 named for Sunday, Bodene Thompson, Solomone Kata and Albert Vete will all face fitness tests later in the week. Thompson missed the Knights clash and Kata and Vete picked up leg knocks in that game.

150 appearances for the Warriors

261 Stacey Jones (1995-2005 & 2009)
240 Simon Mannering (2005-2016)
213 Manu Vatuvei (2004-2016)
195 Logan Swann (1997-2003 & 2007-2008)
185 Lance Hohaia (2002-2011)
177 Ben Matulino (2008-2016)
170 Awen Guttenbeil (1996-2006)
169 Sam Rapira (2006-2015)
159 Wairangi Koopu (1999 & 2001-2008)
150 Micheal Luck (2006-2012)
150 Jacob Lillyman (2009-2016)

- NZ Herald

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