After finding it difficult to break into the NRL side for the majority of the year, Matt McIlwrick’s 2014 season finished on a high when he was selected the Raiders final five matches of the year, three of which were won by the Green Machine.
McIlwrick came into grade as a hooker and his 12 appearances since making his debut in 2012 have been solely in that position.
With the likes of Baptiste, Buttriss, McCrone and Cronin all competing for the hooking role, McIlwrick set about transitioning from being primarily a hooker to being able to easily switch between that and the lock forward role in 2015.
Like always, McIlwrick achieved outstanding results during pre-season fitness testing and led the way in strength and endurance testing. With his ambition of spending more time in the back-row this season, McIlwrick also put on some considerable size compared to previous seasons.
McIlwrick was a solid contributor to the Raiders during the Auckland Nines and the two trials however he was unable to impress Coach Ricky Stuart enough to land a spot in the top 17 for the opening two matches of the season.
As such, McIlwrick lined up at hooker for Mounties in the VB NSW Cup.
Stuart called McIlwrick into the side following an injury to Josh Papalii and a suspension to Shaun Fensom in Round 3, however despite making 35 tackles the Halswell Hornets junior was dropped the next week and not recalled until Round 10 when injuries again struck the side.
After the Round 10 loss to the Panthers, McIlwrick spent the next 11 weeks in the VB NSW Cup.
Playing at hooker due to the depth in the back-row at Mounties, McIlwrick was instrumental in consolidating a spot in the top four of the VB NSW Cup.
It was through McIlwrick’s good form and Fensom’s season ending injury that he got his third chance in the top grade for 2014.
McIlwrick took the opportunity with both hands and kept his place in the side for the final five rounds of the season.
The former Junior Kiwis representative can take a great deal of confidence from the role he played in the Raiders’ three consecutive victories to finish off the year.
McIlwrick’s performances during these last five appearances caught the eyes of New Zealand representative selectors who subsequently selected the 23 year old in the Kiwis train-on squad for the upcoming Four Nations.
McIlwrick proved to be a valuable commodity coming off the interchange bench given his ability to slot between hooker and the back-row with ease. His finish to the year will cause Stuart plenty of selection headaches for next season, albeit headaches he is fortunate to have.
Average Minutes: 41
Try Assists: 0
Line Breaks: 0
Line Break Assists: 0
Tackle Breaks: 2
Average Metres: 54
Average Tackles: 21.9