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Sharks utility Matt McIlwrick in action at the 2016 Auckland Nines.

Michael Ennis may have a mortgage on the Sharks' No. 9 jersey, but Matt McIlwrick's ability to play in the back row has the hooker confident he can fill a utility role for Cronulla in 2016.

Playing a similar role for the Raiders and the Roosters since he first debuted in 2012, McIlwrick is in direct competition with other utilities Ben Barba and Fa'amanu Brown to fill a void on coach Shane Flanagan's bench.

With the interchanges being cut to eight for the upcoming season McIlwrick is confident that it will work in his favour in his first year as a Shark.

"It always helps [being a utility] especially with the eight interchanges now, the utility role becomes very important now in terms of me being able to play both hooker and lock," McIlwrick told

"I've been working a bit at both so hopefully there's a spot for me in first grade; with that utility role I'm capable of playing being very valuable. 

"I thought the cut to the interchanges was a great idea. The big fellas probably weren't on the same page but it's a great idea for the game and I'm looking forward to seeing a bit more open football up through the middle, where it suits me."

McIlwrick also opened up on what Ennis has offered him in terms of advice and mateship since joining the club at the end of last season.

"Micky Ennis has been great for me and helping me out wherever he can. Here is a good opportunity that if I get a chance [in the NRL] I can take with both hands," McIlwrick said.

"It helps seeing Micky be a professional in everything he does and I've learnt a lot from that. It's great for a young bloke like me to try and learn off that and hopefully it shows this year."

Having only opposed Ennis once in his career – earlier last season while at the Roosters – McIlwrick struggled to understand how many seem to have an issue with his on-field behaviour.

"You hear all these stories about when people play him and what he's like but when I first came here he was the first one to greet me and welcome me into the club," McIlwrick said.

"From day dot he's been unbelievable, and the complete opposite to how people perceive him on the field. I think he's an extraordinary competitor in everything he does which everyone thrives off."

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