Raider finds the right room
Raiders player Matt McIlwrick during his debut against the Sharks this year. Photo: Melissa Adams
Canberra Raiders hooker Matt McIlwrick will request to have Tom Learoyd-Lahrs as a roommate for every road trip after revealing the representative prop played a crucial role in calming his nerves.
McIlwrick made the most of his second chance in the top grade, making an impressive contribution off the bench in last weekend's 32-16 win against the Newcastle Knights to state his case for a permanent role this season.
The 21-year-old provided plenty of spark out of dummy-half, running for 47m from five carries while also getting through 20 tackles in just 33 minutes.
McIlwrick made his NRL debut in the 44-22 loss to the Cronulla Sharks on April 29, but spent the past five weeks in the NSW Cup playing with Mounties.
Injuries to Glen Buttriss and Shaun Berrigan opened the door for McIlwrick to be recalled for the trip to Hunter Stadium, which started with a camp at Swansea before shifting to a team hotel.
McIlwrick shared a room with international front-rower Learoyd-Lahrs, who co-captained the side in the absence of Queensland State or Origin prop David Shillington.
Learoyd-Lahrs stepped up to the plate with a dominating performance in the middle of the park, charging for 139m from 17 carries, with the rest of the forward pack following his lead.
''Tommy was so good for me, he's so laid back,'' McIlwrick said. ''You see the professionalism in him.
''He didn't want to flood me with too many thoughts, he just gave me a few subtle tips which helped with the nerves and to play my natural game, which I did.''
McIlwrick admits that wasn't the case when he was called up for his debut against the Sharks.
''You've worked all your life to get to that point, and when it finally comes off, it's kind of a scary thing,'' he said. ''I felt a lot more comfortable going into my second game than I did my first.
''I'm glad I got that first game over and done with and can move on from there.''
McIlwrick has done a long apprenticeship with the Raiders, spending the past three years in the club's Toyota Cup (under 20s) team after moving from New Zealand as a 16-year-old.
His game has been built on spotting gaps up the middle of the ruck and getting his forward pack on the front foot.
''One of my strengths is my running game, so [coach David Furner] just wanted me to run as much as possible, get the team going forward, be an impact player and tackle everything that moves,'' McIlwrick said.
''As a team, we've never doubted ourselves. Hopefully it sparks a chain of wins.''
Furner has given the Raiders the week off, with players returning to training on Sunday ahead of the trip to Townsville to face the North Queensland Cowboys on June 23.
Winger Dimitri Pelo will be available after the match review committee deemed he had no case to answer for a swinging arm.
Under-20s prop Shannon Boyd will also be free to take his place in the Toyota Cup if he pleads guilty to a grade-one tripping charge.
Forward Joe Picker, who was a late scratching from the Knights game with an infected boil, is expected to be available to face the Cowboys.
Shillington will return to the captaincy, while Buttriss is a chance of returning from a sternum injury.