Leading into a blockbuster Friday night match against Manly, hooker Michael Lichaa opened up to the media about the start to his Bulldogs career.
Originally from Wollongong and earning his first NRL jumper at the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in 2014, the 21-year-old Lichaa or “Leech” will play his 18th career first grade game this Friday.
Lichaa was recruited to the Bulldogs for the 2015 season, following the departure of club captain Michael Ennis to the Sharks. The highly talented rake has already earned a City Origin jumper in his short career, after dominating the junior representative fixtures for NSW whilst playing in the Holden Cup.
Questions have already been asked about the weight on his shoulders after taking over from Ennis’, and Lichaa doesn’t shy away from the fact that it hasn’t been easy.
“I was a bit nervous, obviously asking me about that (filling Ennis’ shoes). Since I’ve come to the club, the coaching staff has just put me at ease, they’ve put the trust in me. Des trusts me, and I’m happy if he’s happy,” said Lichaa.
A very humble man for someone of his age and football ability, ‘Leech’ is very critical of his own performances and is honest about his game and where he needs to improve.
“Round 1 (against Penrith) I was probably a little bit nervous. I wasn’t too happy with attack. I thought my D (defence) was all right. Against Parramatta I ran a lot more, my attack rate was up a little bit. I think I’d like to run a bit more, that’s just going to come with a few more weeks, you get used to match fitness. Being an 80-minute player, just getting used to that attitude by the back end of this year,” added Lichaa.
Currently in the NRL, very few hookers get a chance to play the full match, with coaches preferring to cover their spine with a utility, or back up dummy half on the bench. Only Manly’ Matt Ballin, Cronulla’s Michael Ennis, Melbourne’s Cameron Smith, South Sydney’s Isaac Luke and Penrith’s James Segeyaro are 80 minute players.
“Every hooker in the NRL wants to play 80 minutes. Last year I probably didn’t know it was going to be this soon, but I’m happy to be doing it and its only going to get easier,” said Lichaa.
The most important four players on the rugby league field are said to be the fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker. Otherwise known as “the spine”. These combinations are what shapes the attack and direction of a rugby league side and are crucial to the outcome of the match.
Coming from Cronulla last year, Lichaa has had to quickly form some new partnerships with his fellow spine, and according to Lichaa the transition takes time, but the quality of players makes it a lot easier.
“It’s definitely a lot different. Doesn’t matter how much you train its obviously going to take games, in those game situations. They’re all great players. You’ve got Brett Morris. The last two weeks he’s just a freak. Then Moses (Mbye), Trent (Hodkinson) and Josh (Reynolds) they’re all great players.
“Probably a bit of a hiccup with Josh going down, but not many clubs has someone like Moses to come in. You saw him last week how well he played, so hopefully we can get a combination going, us four or whoever the four is.”
The new number 9 in Belmore ran for 66m from 8 runs and 39 tackles in round 2, which was a dramatic improvement from round 1 where he ran for 39m from 5 runs and 35 tackles.
“Yeah I’m just trying to play my own game and my own role. I was a bit disappointed in round 1 we didn’t click too well, we just didn’t play like we want to but I think we bounced back really well last week against Parramatta and hopefully this week we can continue that,” said Lichaa.
Words: Jack Novak