When Jacob Lillyman takes his seat on the Warriors’ bench this Sunday he could be forgiven for feeling a little on the senior side.
At 32 years of age and with 229 NRL appearances to his name, Lillyman dwarfs the three men named with him on the interchange in terms of rugby league experience.
“I probably bring the average age up a little bit,” Lillyman laughed.
Aside from the veteran prop, the other players named to start from the pine – 23-year-old Sam Lisone, 18-year-old Isaiah Papali’i and Erin Clark, 19 – possess just 40 first-grade games between them, all belonging to Lisone, who in just his third year of first-grade footy is a comparative veteran.
Lillyman said he will be working hard to keep the two debutants relaxed through the opening exchanges, ensuring nervous energy doesn’t take over.
“I guess with over 10 years’ first-grade experience you pick up a few things along the way,” Lillyman said.
“I will definitely be having a chat to the young guys and making sure their mindset is right and they are ready to go.”
“I haven’t talked to him (coach Stephen Kearney) too much about it, the bench still has to be narrowed down, but with me there is a bit more experience which always helps.”
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Kearney has opted for tyros Charlie Gubb (29 games) and Albert Vete (36 games) in the run-on front-row to face the Knights.
Both Clark and Papali’i are graduates of the club’s development system, with Papali’i playing 11 U-20 games last year while also playing rugby union for Mount Albert Grammar School, and Clark mixing his time between the U-20s and reserve-grade squads.
— Warrior Jason (@JasonUturner) February 19, 2017
Kearney said the form of the pair through the pre-season meant he had no concerns over selecting them for Round 1.
“The work that they have put in, they have had really good pre-seasons and worked really hard,” Kearney said of Clark and Papali’i.
“Isaiah came on for Ryan last week (in the trial match against the Gold Coast Titans) when Ryan got injured and played the rest of the game.
“He is an impressive young man and given the opportunity to get a job done he did it really, really well.”
Meanwhile, Lillyman said he had no issues with starting from the bench to open the season, despite typically being a starting front-rower in recent years.
“I’m not too fazed, I think Albie (Albert Vete) and Gubby (Charlie Gubb) deserve to start, they have had massive pre-seasons and to be fair I missed a few sessions there due to the old hamstring issue (which meant he played just the one pre-season match),” the Queensland Origin stalwart explained.
“It’s a 17-man game, the bench positions are very important…I just want to put my best foot forward while I am out there.”
We go 1-on-1 with Warriors prospect and Toa Samoa Test star Erin Clark. (@PhotosportNZ)
— KiwiLeagueCentral (@KiwiLeague) May 25, 2016