Matt McIlwrick believes the Wests Tigers are just “one win away” from turning their season around.
The optimistic hooker said season 2017 hadn’t gotten off to the best start – with a series of losses and personnel changes – but that had done nothing to dampen their spirits.
“The losses obviously don’t help but I’m sure we’ll be back to our winning ways soon,” he told the Advertiser.
“We’ve gone through some changes over the past few weeks but I think we’re going to respond really well and look towards the future.”
The 25-year-old is a fresh face in Tiger Town this year.
After stints with the Canberra Raiders, Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks, McIlwrick is finding a home with the orange, black and white.
“This is my fourth club in four years so it was a bit daunting to come here at first, but I don’t want to go anywhere else now,” he said.
“It’s been amazing. I can’t speak highly enough of the fans and the boys have helped me fit in at the club.”
McIlwrick has taken the number nine jersey – worn for so long by Robbie Farah – as his own in the first five rounds of the season and has no intention of giving it up anytime soon.
Last season’s veteran import Matt Ballin has been forced off the field with injury again this year and McIlwrick is not looking to hand over the jersey on the former Manly Sea Eagles star’s return.
“With Matty Ballin and Jacob Liddle in the running for hooker as well it’s been good competition,” he said.
“We learned a lot off each other through pre-season which was great.
“I’ve been given the opportunity with the number nine jersey and obviously I hope to retain it and keep playing the best I can play and do the best I can for the team.”
McIlwrick said the team’s coaching change will cause a lot of players to once again prove they’re the right men for the job.
“Having a preseason under one coach (Jason Taylor) who has you play a certain way and then having a new coach (Ivan Cleary) come in could completely change all that,” he said.
“Ivan will need to get to know us as players and bring in some ideas on how we can all better our game and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
McIlwrick has always loved a challenge.
He was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, an area “very well known for rugby union players”, and relished the physical challenge rugby league offered – despite the “odd looks” he’d get from rugby fans.
“People thought it was pretty funny that I went to such a prestigious rugby union school – which produced the likes of (All Black) Dan Carter – and chose league over union,” he said.
“I’ve been playing league since I was four and I grew up playing union on Saturdays and league on Sundays, but I always just had a thing for league. It’s only rugby league in my heart.”
Mcilwrick hopes to one day represent his country.
“That’s always in the back of my mind,” he said.
“If I play good footy, the opportunity might come around. My dream has always been to play for the Kiwis – hopefully that will come true one day.”