Rugby League


Canberra Raiders hold on to hookers despite Roosters' approach

Canberra has turned down an approach from the Sydney Roosters to release Glen Buttriss or Matt McIlwrick, with Raiders coach Ricky Stuart determined to promote competition in key spots and depth in his squad next year.

The Roosters inquired about Buttriss and McIlwrick before signing Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama to a one-year deal on Thursday. The 23-year-old is to play as a back-up to Jake Friend.

Friend is expected to miss as many as 10 rounds at the start of the 2015 season due to shoulder surgery, forcing the Roosters to target what seemed to be a surplus of hookers at the Raiders and Titans.

The Raiders have recruited England hooker Josh Hodgson, adding to a list of potential rakes that includes Buttriss, McIlwrick, Josh McCrone and Kurt Baptiste. Rookie Mitch Cronin is also training with Canberra's NRL squad in the pre-season.

Contacted by Fairfax Media, Stuart confirmed the Roosters had inquired about Buttriss and McIlwrick.

"I shared it with the players, but I told them they're well and truly in my plans for next season," Stuart said. "They're comfortable with it. They're a big part of our squad.


"I totally appreciate and understand the situation the Roosters were in. They had a bit of bad luck with their player and it's not uncommon for clubs to make these inquiries.

"If it was going to help our player or assist our club you'd look at it, but my goal is to create competition here in positions."

Stuart is making no guarantees this early in the pre-season about any of his key positions, but Canberra will have a new look spine whichever options he takes.

The strongest candidates appear to be Jack Wighton at fullback and recruit Blake Austin at five-eighth, but halfback and hooker are particularly open.

Plagued by injury earlier in his NRL career, Buttriss played all 24 games for the Raiders in 2014 and has now reached 116 matches in seven seasons.

He is likely to battle with Hodgson for the starting spot at nine. The Raiders are also investing a lot more time in training McCrone at hooker this pre-season, adding to his utility value.

"He's got ability to play nine, seven or six," Stuart said. "He's got great utility value and so we're doing a lot of work with him at nine this off-season just to give him more timing and cohesion in that position.

"It's too early in the pre-season to be predicting or promoting what positions they're going to be at. They'll help me decide that with their work in the pre-season and the trials."

McIlwrick started his career at hooker, representing the Junior Kiwis, but he and the club have made it clear his future at Canberra lies in the back row.

The 23-year-old shared the duties at lock with Joel Edwards in the closing rounds last season when Shaun Fensom suffered a season-ending knee injury. Although Fensom's rehabilitation is progressing well, the club is preparing for him to miss the first month of the 2015 season.

The Raiders have signed Iosia Soliola from the British Super League to boost their back-row depth too, but McIlwrick is in the mix.

"He's a really good defender, he's got really good leg-speed and I think lock is his best positron, it suits his game," Stuart said.