IN nine visits to Newcastle during his 250-game NRL career, Jacob Lillyman admits he had not seen much other than McDonald Jones Stadium and the team hotel.
But he knew enough to have formed a positive opinion.
“I haven’t spent a hell of a lot of time here … but I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Newcastle,” he said on Wednesday.
That was at the forefront of Lillyman’s thinking when Knights officials contacted him last year, offering a one-season contract.
While he could have stayed with the Warriors for his 10th consecutive campaign, the former Queensland Origin prop felt a change of environment was just what he needed, at the age of 33.
While plenty of other high-profile players were apparently wary about joining a team languishing at the foot of the NRL ladder, Lillyman preferred to look on the upside.
“I know there’s the makings of a good young side, and I’d like to be part of giving this great football town another successful footy team,” he said after his first training session with Newcastle.
I’d like to be part of giving this great football town another successful footy team.JACOB LILLYMAN
“… we’ve certainly got some handy signings coming into the side. That, to go with the basis of what they’ve already got, I’m really excited about what we can do.
“I’m not going to be making any bold predictions, but this is a fantastic footy town. The town loves its footy team and I’d love, as I said before, to play my part in helping get them back to where they belong.”
The Knights will certainly welcome Lillyman’s experience. Since debuting for North Queensland in 2003, he has appeared in 14 Origins and the Warriors’ 2011 grand final loss to Manly, and established himself as an unsung workhorse.
“He’s brings a lot of experience,” Knights coach Nathan Brown said.
“He’s played a dozen or so Origins, he’s a 12-year veteran, and he's a really good trainer and prepares well.
“We're hopeful that he can provide some good education, probably more off the field than anything ... most of our other props are pretty much kids at this stage.”
Given he will be 34 by the time next season kicks off – only 10 players in the competition are older – Lillyman was comfortable to “take it one year at a time.”
“That’s good for me,” he said. “Get in, start playing some footy and get into the season and see where the mind’s at. But you never know what could happen.
“I’m just looking forward to a new team and I’m just really excited at the squad we’ve got. I really believe we can give things a real shake next year.”
He said surgery to repair a torn biceps he suffered last last season had been successful.
“I’m only a week or two away from full contact, so it won’t hold me back for too long,” he said.
As for his first training session with the Knights, which featured a two-kilometre time trial, he said: “The lungs and legs really felt it.”