Jacob Liddle chasing Wests Tigers No.9 jersey after difficult start to NRL career
April 6, 2018 6:00am
Source: FOX SPORTS
AFTER seven months on the sidelines and two shoulder surgeries, young Wests Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle has set his sights on the No.9 jersey he’s been chasing for three years.
Since making his NRL debut as a teenager in 2016, the livewire hooker’s career has hit speed bump after speed bump, with injuries and rehab his only constant after bursting onto the scene.
Establishing himself in first grade under new coach Ivan Cleary last year, Liddle’s luck hit rock bottom when he injured his right shoulder in Round 19, putting a premature end to his season and forcing him to go under the knife.
Not only did he need surgery on his right shoulder, the decision was made to repair his left one, which he had injured in the pre-season, at the same time.
With both arms in slings, Liddle embarked on a seven month rehabilitation program before finally getting back onto the park for the Tigers’ Easter Monday win over the Eels.
His return came with a bang, with Liddle scooting out of dummy half and through Parramatta’s defensive line with his first touch after coming on in the first half when starting hooker Pita Godinet went off for a concussion test.
It was a swift reminder of the explosive acceleration that makes the young gun such a threat around the ruck and has had him tipped for big things since he was 18.
While he doesn’t expect to push for the starting team in the next few weeks, Liddle says he wants the responsibility that comes with the Tigers’ famous No.9 jersey and sees an opportunity to supercharge the team’s attack, which had struggled to fire in the first three rounds.
“Definitely long-term, I want to wear that No.9 jersey,” Liddle told foxsports.com.au.
“I think at the moment I just want to keep on playing footy and getting my match fitness up and getting my tackling right. But I was pretty happy with the hit out today.”
In his 30-minute cameo off the bench on Monday Liddle ran for 62 metres from his three darts out of dummy half.
Exploiting quick play the balls has always been his strength and Liddle says he has been encouraged by Cleary to take the game on whenever he sees an opening.
“That’s my normal game, just to run on quick play the balls if there’s only one marker or something,” Liddle said.
“I look to get out fast and hopefully the boys come with me. Ivan encourages that, he loves it.
“If we’ve got a fast play the ball he wants me to look to get over the advantage line and run at them.”
It’s a style that is somewhat in contrast to what the Tigers get from veteran hooker Godinet, which explains their slow reactions to Liddle’s first scoot against the Eels.
Luke Brooks is one of the fastest halves in the NRL and even he was unable to loom up alongside his younger teammate after being caught out by Liddle’s sharp work.
“He’s quick, he made that break and I was trying to catch up to him, I couldn’t catch him,” Brooks said.
“He’s a great player, so for his first game back after two shoulder reconstructions that’s a great effort from him, so he’s going to be good for us.”
Cleary was equally impressed by Liddle’s first game back.
“Jake’s a good young kid and a good player, very good player, got a lot of potential,” Cleary said.
“He went through two shoulder reconstructions at the end of last year, so he’s trained really hard and yeah, he’s a popular guy around the place and as I said, he’s got a lot of potential.”
Three years but just 15 games into his NRL career, Liddle is jumping out of his skin just to get onto the park and stay there so he can start to live up to his clear talent.
If he can do that, and with Josh Reynolds still to join a spine in the middle of a promising transition, the question marks over the side’s attack might soon be a thing of the past.