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Home grown hooker

Date

Jon Tuxworth

Matt McIlwrick has a constant reminder of his grass roots, says JON TUXWORTH

26TH APRIL 2012- SPORT- STORY JOHN TUXWORTH - THE CANBERRA TIMES- PHOTO BY MELISSA ADAMS. Canberra Raiders player Matt McIlrick at home in Macgregor.

26TH APRIL 2012- SPORT- STORY JOHN TUXWORTH - THE CANBERRA TIMES- PHOTO BY MELISSA ADAMS. Canberra Raiders player Matt McIlrick at home in Macgregor. Photo: Melissa Adams MLA

HELPING his home town Christchurch rebuild after last year's massive earthquake was the toughest experience of Matt McIlwrick's life.

And the Canberra Raiders hooker said watching the city he loves reduced to rubble has helped put his pending first grade debut into perspective.

McIlwrick, nicknamed 'Kiwi', is so passionate about his homeland he sports tattoos of the New Zealand map and the country's coat of arms.

Last February's ordeal has helped the 20-year-old keep his nerves in check before his first crack at the big time this Sunday against Cronulla.

''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.''

The Raiders invited McIlwrick to trial in Canberra as a 16-year-old at the bequest of former New Zealand national coach Frank Endacott.

He was so impressive, Raiders coach David Furner invited him to live with his family for the first two years in the capital.

The Halswell Hornets junior has earned his chance through strong form for Canberra's NSW Cup affiliate Mounties.

His running game is his strength, and Furner is hoping it will provide his side with some much-needed spark from the bench.

McIlwrick has been working feverishly with the club's last great hooker Simon Woolford, a Raiders coaching consultant this year, 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.''

The seventh Raiders debutante since the start of last season, Woolford said McIlwrick is a willing student who has earned his chance.

''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.''

Furner believes the fact McIlwrick has played against bigger bodies in the NSW Cup this year will have him primed for the NRL's greater physicality.

''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.''

Four Nations 2014

Round 1
Sat, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
ENG 32 vs SAM 26 Stats
AUS 12 vs NEWZ 30 Stats
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Round 2
Sat, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NEWZ 14 vs SAM 12 Report Stats
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
AUS 16 vs ENG 12 Report Stats
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Round 3
Sat, 08 NovTimes shown AEDT
NEWZ 16 vs ENG 14 Report Stats
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
AUS 44 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
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Final
Sat, 15 NovTimes shown AEDT
NEWZ 22 vs AUS 18 Report Stats
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Four Nations 2014
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 3 3 0 0 22 6
Australia 3 2 1 0 12 4
England 3 1 2 0 0 2
Samoa 3 0 3 0 -34 0
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