THERE are few things tougher than tackling retiring Blues skipper Paul Gallen, but Maroons prop Jacob Lillyman can name one – riding bulls.
The man from the small country town of Richmond – between Townsville and Mt Isa in north Queensland – spent his early teens riding at rodeos.
Raised on a 10,000ha station in Outback Queensland where he mustered the family’s cattle and sheep, Lillyman was an enthusiastic amateur bull rider in his teens before football took over.
Those formative years helped him build a hard edge.
“Riding bulls is a lot tougher (than tackling Gallen), trust me,” Lillyman told Australian Regional Media. “I take my hat off to those blokes. It’s a whole different level getting on those big things. I used to enjoy it and jump on a few every now and then.”
Lillyman did pay the veteran New South Wales captain the ultimate accolade though, ahead of his final Origin match at ANZ Stadium tonight.
“The position he plays, the way he plays, the minutes he plays – he’s tough,” he said.
“He goes all day, he’s tough and aggressive and he’s been doing that for a lot of years.
“He’s certainly got a lot of respect in this team. He’s been copping it a bit too (from former Blues coach Phil Gould about his leadership style), which is a bit unfair.
“That comes with the territory, but he’ll be looking for a massive one for his last game.”
Also playing his final Origin in Sydney tonight will be Queensland lock Corey Parker.
Like Lillyman, Parker has not always been an automatic selection for the Maroons – he was in the Origin wilderness from 2006-10.
“It (Parker’s final Origin game) is massive. There won’t be too much said about it, but we all know the occasion and what’s at stake,” Lillyman said. “Since he’s come back in, he’s consistently been one of the best players every Origin game.
“He deserves a fitting send-off, so hopefully we can give that to him. He’s great to have around the team, he’s good value. We like to have a bit of a laugh with him.”
Lillyman missed Queensland selection in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Now 32, there’s no such thing as a dead rubber for the man – every Origin match is special.
“Having those times when I’ve been away for a year or two and missed out makes you appreciate it a bit more,” he said.
“Now when I come into camp I can really lap it up and enjoy the week.”
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