CANTERBURY CONNECTION: CANBERRA RAIDERS
Entering the premiership in 1982, the Canberra Raiders have regularly dipped into the New Zealand player market – including the recruitment of some of Canterbury’s most prized rugby league products.
The Raiders qualified for five grand finals between 1987 and ’94, and each of those sides featured an ex-Canterbury front-rower.
As well as being a New Zealand water polo rep, Linwood prop Brent Todd represented the Junior Kiwis in 1985 and earned senior international status later that year. He replaced injured provincial teammate Ross Taylor on the Kiwis’ tour to Britain and France, making his Test debut against the latter.
Todd signed on with Canberra at the end of 1986 and immediately formed a formidable front-row combination with Sam Backo, helping the Raiders to their maiden grand final appearance in 1987, a loss to Manly.
Injury wrecked Todd’s 1988 season, but he bounced back to star in the Raiders’ 1989-90 premiership triumph. After featuring in the defeat to Penrith in the ’91 grand final, Todd’s 91st top-grade appearance for the club, he finished his career with two seasons for the Gold Coast Seagulls.
Todd played 28 Tests for New Zealand from 1985-93.
Five-eighth Mark Nixon made his representative debut for Canterbury in 1988, and spent 10 weeks of the ’89 season at Canberra as part of the New Zealand Rugby League’s short-lived ‘Rookie Scheme’.
Nixon didn’t appear in first grade for the Raiders, but he played two Tests for the Kiwis in 1990 and had professional stints with British clubs Rochdale Hornets and Featherstone Rovers. He also skippered Canterbury to its famous win over Auckland in 1993 before touring Britain and France with the Kiwis squad.
Originally from the West Coast, Quentin Pongia broke into the New Zealand Test side in 1992 after moving to Canterbury. The 22-year-old’s rapid rise attracted the interest of the Raiders, and he headed to the Australian capital in 1993.
Pongia played 74 games in five seasons at the club – including the 1994 grand final victory over Canterbury Bulldogs – but frequent judiciary appearances punctuated much of his tenure in the premiership.
A veteran of 35 Tests, Pongia had subsequent stints with the Auckland Warriors (1998), Sydney Roosters (1999-2001), St George Illawarra Dragons (2003) and Wigan Warriors (2003-04) before hanging up the boots.
Linwood forward and Junior Kiwi Glen Turner played 56 games for Melbourne from 2000-06 before being snapped up by Canberra.
Turner played 36 NRL games and scored five tries for the Raiders from 2007-09, including 33 starts at second-row or lock. He later served as the club’s Welfare Officer.
Halswell junior Matt McIlwrick linked with the Raiders while still at school, winning the club’s SG Ball Players’ Player award in 2008 and racking up 64 appearances for the Raiders’ Under-20s team from 2008-11.
The hooker/lock represented the Junior Kiwis in 2010 and earned his NRL spurs with the Raiders two years later, playing 19 games in the top flight (five at hooker, one at lock, 13 off the bench) from 2012-14. He has since had stints at Sydney Roosters, Cronulla and current club Wests Tigers.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) May 18, 2014
Matt’s younger brother, centre/back-rower Jared McIlwrick, and Hornby and Rockcote Canterbury Bulls half Tevin Arona have both played in the Raiders’ NYC ranks.