Warriors will be in the eye of Melbourne Storm

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013
Jacob Lillyman
Getty Images
HARD MAN: Prop Jacob Lillyman.

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Warriors players are well aware of what the big three will bring for the Storm in today's game at Mt Smart Stadium.

But the player who'll have the most recent insight into what makes Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk so special is Jacob Lillyman.

The prop was the 18th man in the last two State of Origin games this year and, although he never got to play alongside them in the victorious Queensland side, he once again was able to observe how they operate.

"The first thing that strikes you is that they're just great blokes," Lillyman told the Sunday News.

"They're real down to earth and just quality people, there isn't the slightest hint of an ego amongst them.

"On and off the footy field they're the ultimate professionals, especially with Cameron Smith. He's probably the smartest player in the NRL, the way he can read a game is pretty uncanny.

"Billy is an absolute freak and is up there with the game's best ever fullbacks. They're just quality and they bring so much to their team, it's certainly going to be tough to shut them down."

But that's just what the Warriors need to do today. The fact that the Storm won the last game the big three played in, 32-0 against the Broncos, but then lost 39-0 to the Bulldogs a week later when they were on Origin duty is the only evidence needed to quantify the impact they have. But the Warriors, who feature three ex-Storm players in Todd Lowrie, Nathan Friend and Dane Neilsen, have been trucking along pretty well themselves and, as their recent win over the Roosters demonstrated, they're not a side that gets overawed when going up against one of the big guns.

They do have three tricky games coming up, against the Sharks and Sea Eagles after today's battle against the Storm, but their run home is easier. The Panthers, Titans, Raiders and Dragons are all sides they're capable of beating.

Winning all four of those should put them in the top eight and any wins against the other three makes their situation more comfortable.

"If we manage to beat the Storm I believe it sets us up for a great finish to the year," said Lillyman.

"Doing that would give us so much confidence and belief and it would really be a springboard for us into the remaining games and then into the finals.

"We don't want it to come down to the last couple of games, we'd like to have a bit of a buffer there."

What's always a good indicator of how well the Warriors are going is how much they're talked about on the Australian rugby league shows. When they were going through their turgid start to the season they never got a mention on the Footy Show, NRL 360 and the like.

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Now, they've got Peter Sterling, Andrew and Matthew Jones, and Brad Fittler singing their praises almost non-stop.

The common comment from them is the Warriors' unpredictability and tendency to do things off the cuff is what makes them such a dangerous opponent.

"There is definitely truth in that," said Lillyman.

"With the players we have in the squad, you can have your game plan and structure, but all it takes is a big run from Manu [Vatuvei] or for Feleti [Mateo] to duck through and get an offload and it just changes things."

Lillyman has been in great form for the Warriors this season, hence that recall back inside the Queensland camp after a two-year absence.

The 29-year-old said it was good to be back in the squad again, but being the 18th man meant he never totally felt like one of the other players.

"It was great to be back in there and amongst the boys," he said.

- Sunday News

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