Bradford Bulls halfback Jordan Lilley is 107 games into his professional career and had always aspired to be a Rugby League player.
Growing up in Leeds, Lilley would play for local team Stanningly Rugby League club and idolised a couple of big names from the NRL along with a few Rhinos legends.
“I played for Stanningly amateur rugby league club. They’re a big club, my family plays for them as well and I go back there and coach now also.”
“My Rugby League idols would probably be Johnathan Thurston or Darren Lockyer. Otherwise, it’s Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow or Danny Maguire” Lilley told Everything Rugby League.
Into his teenage years, the halfback was playing consistently at a high level which garnered interest from his favourite club the Leeds Rhinos. He ended up signing with them at quite a young age and made his debut a few years later.
“I was offered a scholarship [at Leeds] and went down for the first time, which for a 15-year-old was massive and a proud moment. Getting out there and making my family proud was fantastic.”
“My first opportunity for Leeds came about when I was 18 where I made my debut against Wakefield, again another really proud moment for my family after I had come through the ranks at Leeds and I managed to get a game against Wakey which was brilliant and something I’ll remember. I’ve still got the shirt now and it was a proud moment for me.”
The very next year at just 19-years-old Lilley would play in the biggest game of his life in the 2016 World Club Challenge against the North Queensland Cowboys and more importantly, against on of his idols, Johnathan Thurston. The Rhinos may have lost the game, but it was an experience the halfback will never forget.
“I know I keep talking about wanting to make my family proud but that’s all I ever wanted to do. Just make my Mum, Dad and my brother proud and give back to them for everything they supported me through, so to do that was fantastic.
“The day, the build-up and everything was just amazing. The experience to get to play against one of my idols who by all means was probably on 1000 times my wage was amazing and something I won’t forget. Not many 19-year-olds get to do that so to have the chance to play in a World Club Challenge against some of the best players in the world on the biggest stage was amazing. It gave me an opportunity to see where I was at and see if I could compete at that level.
“One moment I remember is nearly getting over the line, just showing and going then I spun around and ended up getting held up by Lachlan Coote
“To have one of those moments you can talk about sitting and having a beer with friends and family is amazing and as I said, something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Hopefully, it’s not the last time I play in one of the big games,” he says.
Unfortunately for Lilley, his time at Leeds was short-lived, with multiple loan spells under his belt and no foreseeable game time at the Rhinos, Lilley was released by the club in 2019 and signed by none other than their arch-rivals the Bradford Bulls.
After eliminating Featherstone by a point in the Challenge Cup, Bradford drew Leeds in the next round. The derby had returned after a multiple year hiatus and Lilley found himself already lining up against his former club.
The Bulls overcame the odds to beat the Rhinos with Lilley receiving the man of the match award, a moment the 23-year-old remembers as a bittersweet moment.
“For me growing up as a Leeds lad, the fact that they weren’t going to keep me was disappointing and at the time I took it hard. Wanting to play for Leeds and being Leeds through and through, it was hard hearing that but that’s life and in life you have adversity and for me, I had to get over that adversity.
“Then that game came about and it was a crazy hour. We ended up winning with a drop goal against Featherstone and then drawing them [Leeds] in the next round which was absolutely amazing.
“Not just for me personally but for the Bradford club not having played in a game that big in ages. It was good for the club to get that money and revenue coming in with a crowd of 20,000 as they had been in financial trouble.
“I didn’t so much want to get one over on Leeds as I don’t think like that. I more just wanted to go a give the best account of Jordan Lilley I possibly can.
“It was tough for me but in those games, you have to put your emotions to one side. I had to just go into that game and give it my best shot and try and direct the team around the field. John [Kear] gave us a great game plan and I think we executed it amazingly that day. We had no subs left with 10 minutes to go against a full-time team like Leeds who have got world-class players. That’s tough but we stuck together as a group and we came out of that 10 minute period on top which was a credit to the team, John and all his staff.”
“I would be interested one day in going to the NRL, it would be an amazing opportunity if it came about. It’s a great competition and has some amazing players in it, so for me, if the chance came I’d jump on it, but for now, I want to establish myself over here before I even start to think of stuff like that.
“It’s all about building them blocks and keep working hard. Hopefully, I can do that and see what comes from it one day.
“I’ve always liked the Melbourne Storm, they’re a club I’ve followed. I used to watch Cooper Cronk when he was there, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, so going there would be amazing, as would any club in the NRL.”
Lilley has also already started looking to life after Rugby League, recently opening his own gym, Lilley’s Fitness.
“I own a company called Lilley’s Fitness which is a gym and it just came about one day really. I was talking to Jerry Jones at Leeds and he asked me what would you do if Rugby ended tomorrow? It got me thinking about what would I do.
“Soon after I started these boot camps at Stanningly Rugby League club where I was in my amateur days and it took off and we got 10 plus members on it.
“I just like helping people and I think it was just something I was passionate about doing. The boot camps were going really well but we wanted a facility to run them from. The guy I was doing it with could no longer commit to it so it was just me for a while until my Dad came in and we went into it together as a family business. We found a unit in Bradford and took over it in September  and it’s just progressed week on week.”
Jordan is starting to look at expanding the business and is in talks with a professional boxer with the aim of going to schools with him to help troubled youths under the Lilley’s Fitness brand. He is also thinking of opening a Lilley’s Fitness food prep store in the future.
“We now make enough to put in for the rent but we’re still a long way off of making any money out of it. I’m still making people feel better so I’m happy.
“Lilley’s fitness is a class-based gym, it’s not like a normal gym where you can come and just lift weights. We have set times, such as our morning classes, we also do night classes and hopefully, we can start to fit some afternoon classes in around Rugby.
“I prefer the class-based workouts as you have two or three people around you pushing you to make those last couple of reps and holding you accountable. We are all one big family that pushes each other to complete our goals.”