McIlwrick punches above weight
He's 80kg dripping wet, but Raiders SG Ball coach Peter Marrapodi rates second-rower Jared McIlwrick the toughest pound-for-pound player in the competition.
The younger brother of promising Canberra hooker Matt, Jared developed a thirst for contact playing against bigger kids in Christchurch.
The 17-year-old punches well above his weight and shapes as a key player when the Raiders chase an under-18s grand final berth against Sydney Roosters this Saturday.
''I guess you'd call him wiry, but he's grown up in the South Island of New Zealand and has come up against some big strong players in his time,'' Marrapodi said.
''That's the way he plays the game, his toughness is second to none in the competition.''
Jared's take-no-prisoners style differs greatly from 20-year-old Matt, who has been named to make his NRL debut this weekend.
''They've both got great work ethics, but Matt tends to be a bit more flashy and Jared gets down in the trenches,'' Marrapodi said.
''Jared played for the New Zealand under 16s, and will be in SG Ball with us again next year.''
Raiders recruitment officer David Hamilton said McIlwrick's fearlessness held him in good stead to one day join his brother in first grade.
''Size doesn't bother that kid, that's for sure,'' Hamilton said.
''He's not scared of contact, so that's a big step in the right direction.
''The Kiwi kids play in tough competitions over there, which helps him when we play Penrith and Parramatta and those big sides.
''His work ethic and attitude are outstanding so I can't see him not taking those steps.''
The Raiders enter Saturday's preliminary final brimming with confidence after shocking previously unbeaten Balmain in the major semi a fortnight ago.
The week off last week has allowed classy centre Branko Lee to rest a nagging groin injury, while winger Rourke O'Sullivan is a chance to return from a bruised kidney after missing the Tigers clash.
''Branko's been struggling a bit with that and we've been waiting for a chance to give him a rest and recover from that,'' Marrapodi said.
Canberra didn't face the Roosters in the regular season, and Marrapodi admitted the Bondi club was largely an unknown quantity as a result.
''I've seen very little of them and we haven't come across them this year, but I watched video of them earlier this season before we played Canterbury and they're a very attacking side who throw the ball around a lot,'' Marrapodi said. ''We did expect a result like that against the Tigers, and while we didn't execute as well as we have in the past our attitude and willingness to work hard for each other was excellent.''
Should the Raiders beat the Roosters, they will play the winner of the other preliminary final between Balmain and Souths in next week's decider.
SG Ball preliminary final - Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters at St Mary's, Penrith, 1.30pm.