Veteran Newcastle prop Jacob Lillyman will bring down the curtain on his playing career at the end of the year after 16 seasons in the NRL.
The 34-year-old told the Newcastle Herald of his retirement plans yesterday during the build-up to Sunday’s clash against the Melbourne Storm, vowing to do whatever he can for the remainder of the season to ensure he finishes on a positive note at the Knights.
“I’ve had a really good run but it’s probably time to ride off into the sunset,” he said.
“This year has probably been a bit tough mentally. It’s always tough physically.
“I’ve had my fair share of niggling injuries and just the week in, week out grind of playing – all that sort of adds up for a bloke my age.
“She’s a tough old comp and tackling monsters every weekend, it takes a bit of a toll so that’s where I am at.
“I don’t have any regrets though. I’ve had a bloody good career.
“But I obviously want to finish on the best possible note here in Newy so that’s the focus now.
“Just playing my role for the rest of the year and helping the boys as much as I can will be the aim.”
It was that mentoring type role that coach Nathan Brown brought Lillyman to the club for at the start of the season.
And while the player affectionately known as “Ox” may not have had a huge on-field influence, his value to the club’s younger forwards off the field has been enormous according to the coach.
“We knew what we were getting with Ox and the good thing about him is you know what he is going to provide each weekend.” Brown said.
“There is not a big gap between his performance levels from week to week.
“It’s why Cameron Smith wanted him in his Queensland Origin side for all those years because he is just so reliable.
“But from our point of view, we wanted his influence around the boys off the field as well with his professionalism, the way he prepares for games, his work ethic in the gym, and the fact that he is just a real good bloke to have around the group.”
Prior to linking with the Knights this season, Lillyman played 188 NRL games for the Warriors over nine seasons from 2009 to 2017 after making his debut for North Queensland in 2003 and playing 62 top grade games for the Cowboys.
He played a total of 14 Origin games between 2006 and 2017 for Queensland.
With Lillyman poised to retire and doubts over the future of the club’s other veteran prop Chris Heighington 35, it is little wonder the Knights are working hard behind the scenes to bolster their frontrow stocks.
At one stage, the club was linked to Bulldogs prop Aaron Woods but potential negotiations did not even get to first base and since then, Wests Tigers prop Tim Grant has emerged as a possible target.
But the Knights meticulous approach to filling roster positions continues despite concerns over a growing injury list which now includes two of their big men up front, Daniel and Jacob Saifiti.
Daniel Saifiti, currently in a moon boot and walking with the aid of crutches, said on Tuesday he is hoping to be back from an ankle ligament tear for his side’s July 13 clash against Parramatta.
But Jacob faces a longer period on the sideline due to his shoulder injury.
“It’s frustrating and has come at a really bad time for me,” Daniel said.
“Hopefully, I can get back for the Eels game.”
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