Fresh off inking a new two-year contract extension with Wests Tigers, hooker Matt McIlwrick will be itching to produce a strong performance tonight when his side takes on the Gold Coast Titans this Friday night at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
The former Raider, Rooster and Shark has been one of Wests Tigers best this season since making the switch to Concord Oval and, after starting every match so far this year, drops back to the bench as his combination with Jacob Liddle continues to thrive.
How that combination will play out on the night still remains to be seen, but with Aaron Woods playing his second game in just 48 hours and Tim Grant missing through suspension, what is clear is that Ivan Cleary’s side will need plenty of muscle and energy in the middle — making McIlwrick’s role on the night all the more important.
Since making his return from injury earlier this season, Gold Coast Titans hooker Nathan Peats has wasted no time in showing his class in 2017 — earning an Origin debut for Game I and playing the full 160 minutes through both Origin games so far.
How Peats goes at backing up following a big night in the middle of the Origin cauldron remains to be seen, especially with Coach Neil Henry naming Pat Politoni on the bench.
Other Key Matchups to keep an eye on include Kevin Naiqama v Jarryd Hayne, Luke Brooks v Ash Taylor, Aaron Woods v Ryan James and Moses Suli v Konrad Hurrell.
ALL THE NUMBERS
Slightly skewed by the fact that Peats has featured in just six games this season since returning in Round 7, it’s interesting to note the difference in stats so far this year between McIlwrick and Peats. McIlwrick has crossed for two tries and chalked up three linebreaks as well, while Peats is yet to register a try or linebreak — instead chalking up four try-assists in his six games so far. Similarly, McIlwrick’s run metres are well up on Peats (519m to 215m), but Peats’ 41 tackles per game are well up on McIlwrick’s 24. What is similar, though, is the tackling ability of both, with over 90% effective tackles.
Despite playing in the NRL for six years together, Peats and McIlwrick are incredibly yet to meet at first-grade prior to tonight’s clash. Perhaps the only similarity, according to reports, is that the Parramatta Eels were interested in signing both players for the 2018 season — only for McIlwrick to re-sign with Wests Tigers while the Eels reportedly pulled out of negotiations with Peats to bring the hooker back to his old home.
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MCILWRICK’S NEW ROLE
Despite coming off the bench for the first time this season, McIlwrick’s role on the night still remains somewhat up in the air given how fluctuant Coach Ivan Cleary has been with McIlwrick’s minutes rotation with Liddle. Over the past six weeks, McIlwrick has played 48, 41, 53, 33, 27, 49 and 31 minutes — creating a few questions about what capacity he’ll be used in this weekend. What is clear, however, is that McIlwrick’s isn’t phased by how the combination plays out, saying “I just want to be in the 17 each week. I’ve come here for an opportunity and I’ve tried to take that with both hands. I’ve played every game and I want to stay in the side, no matter what that role is.”
PEATS’ MONSTER ORIGIN EFFORT
Known for his high work-rate and relentless effort, Peats will need to produce another superhuman to back up on Friday night after a monster performance in the middle during Game II on Wednesday night. After pumping out 80 minutes and 53 tackles in Game I, Peats did not back up against the Cowboys on Saturday night in Round 13 — meaning that tonight will be his first time backing up all season. After also pumping out 80 minutes and a remarkable 57 tackles, Peats will need to find something special, but with Politoni on the bench, he could drop back to the bench or see his minutes reduced.