Grass roots is where McIlwrick’s heart lies

Matt McIlwrick

For any player from the area, it would have been a tough time to face the ordeal that was the recent earthquake in Christchurch – and for Matt McIlwrick, a boom Raiders hooker set to make his debut, it was the toughest ordeal of his life.

With the threat that was the earthquake, it has helped bring McIlwrick back to Earth as a player, as he prepares for his first-grade debut.

As a young player with nerves, it was the devastating effect of the Christchurch earthquake, that helped McIlwrick level-headed and focused on possibly making his first-grade debut.

“Just the loss of life, it’s a small home town to me, and to see that kind of stuff over the news was devastating,” McIlwrick said yesterday.

“I went over there and helped out [with the clean up] for a week, it opened my eyes a bit.

“A couple of my grandparents lost their houses and are rebuilding, but no one got hurt which is something I’m grateful for.

“Life’s pretty short and it was pretty scary to see my family so heartbroken, but they’re strong people.”

Invited to trial at the Raiders at just 16, by former New Zealand coach Frank Endacott – McIlwrick made an immediate impact, so much so, that he was invited by Raiders coach David Furner to stay in his house with his family for 2 years.

In order to improve his game, McIlwrick has been working with the player regarded as the Raiders last top hooker, in Simon Woolford – in order to become a more well-rounded player.

“He’s changed my game a fair bit,” McIlwrick said.

“If there was a quick play I’d just run, and now I’m thinking about different passing options.

“He’s been helping my passing and decision making, and that’s been a big plus for me.

“I used to just put my head down and run, but he’s shown me there’s different options I should be looking out for.”

Woolford believes that McIlwrick has earned his spot to have the chance to play first-grade, and has been a willing student.

“He’s a very dynamic player, a very good runner of the football and I guess the coaching staff are looking for him to spark them when he gets his opportunity [from the bench],” Woolford said.

“He knows when to run and is very good at it, [but we’re] trying to develop his game to find a pass every now and then and link to his halves.”

What also works in McIlwrick’s favour, according to coach David Furner, is that the young hooker has been playing for the Raiders feeder side Mounties in the NSW Cup – preparing him for the physical nature of the NRL.

“It isn’t the game speed of the twenties [Toyota Cup] or first grade, but he’s been playing against men and the physicality side of it won’t bother him,” Furner said.

“You have to put your body on the line in that competition [NSW Cup], and he’s been playing against [fringe] first graders down there as well.

“The first thing that struck me when I watched him do the beep test as a 16-year-old was he just stood out as a really fit athlete.

“I think Matty’s style will help us on the weekend.”

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