Kiwi hooker eyes Raiders first grade spot

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2012
Matt McIlwrick
Getty Images
EYE-CATCHING: Matt McIlwrick, of the Raiders, is tackled by Isaac De Gois, of the Sharks.

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Christchurch-born hooker Matt McIlwrick is trying to catch Canberra Raiders coach David Furner's eye as the former Christchurch Boys' High School pupil attempts to cement a spot in the Raiders' first-grade team.

After biding his time in the lower grades the 20-year-old's persistence has finally paid off as form fluctuations and injuries enable him to experience the NRL for the first time.

McIlwrick left Christchurch for Canberra when he was 16 and served a lengthy apprenticeship in Harold Matthews, SG Ball and the New South Wales Cup before making his first-grade debut in round eight against Cronulla on April 29 when Travis Waddell was dropped as the backup to starting dummy half Glen Buttriss.

Waddell is back in favour now Buttriss is sidelined, but former New Zealand Warrior Shaun Berrigan's bicep injury facilitated McIlwrick's recall for the 32-16 victory at Newcastle on June 9 and he retains a bench spot for Saturday's clash in North Queensland.

"It's been awesome. It was good to get the first one over and done with and then it was great to get a win with my second crack," said McIlwrick, who has spent most of the season playing for the Raiders' feeder club, Mt Pritchard.

"The step-up's been pretty good. Toyota Cup's a pretty good stepping stone and I've played a few games in the NSW Cup which gets you used to playing against men."

It has been some initiation for the Halswell Hornets junior but he has embraced the challenge by recently signing a contract extending his stay at the Raiders until the end of 2014.

"When I debuted I had Paul Gallen running at me, then it was big Willie Mason. I was pretty starstruck," he said, relieved to finally get an opportunity to impress Furner, his surrogate father when he arrived in the Australian capital in 2008.

McIlwrick can also play lock though his options there are limited as fellow New Zealanders Bronson Harrison, Josh Papalii and Australian Shaun Fensom jockey for that position in the Green Machine.

Harrison and Papalii are from the league stronghold of Auckland, but McIlwrick has more in common with the Warriors utility Lewis Brown, a fellow Cantab.

They share a mutual dislike of union, for McIlwrick one season of rugby was enough at one of New Zealand's foremost rugby nurseries, Christchurch Boys'.

An All Blacks jersey never interested him.

"I had to play one year of union at school and I hated it," he said.

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However, a classmate at CBHS took the traditional sporting pathway in Christchurch and to McIlwrick's surprise Brodie Retallick made his test debut against Ireland at Eden Park while he was playing the Knights.

"He's a good mate of mine, we'd muck around playing at lunchtime so it's good to see where he's gotten to now," McIlwrick said.

- The Press

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