Australia's new Prince of the pitch is eager to take crown

Wests Tigers scrum-half overcomes bereavement and a twice broken leg to earn surprise call-up against Great Britain, writes Dave Hadfield
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The Kangaroos coach, Wayne Bennett, sidled up to him in training this week and told him that he was in the team to play Great Britain in their Tri-Nations showdown at Wigan, but things did not always go as smoothly for coach and player at club level.

"Scott was one of the great disappointments at Brisbane because of what happened to him there," Bennett says, referring to a difficult period that saw Prince lose his father in a car crash early in his time with the Broncos and then break his leg twice in a year.

"It's a time in my career that I'd rather forget," Prince says now. "But Wayne was a great support to me through all those problems."

All the same, at the end of three years in Brisbane, Prince told Bennett that he thought he should move on. "He came to me and said that he didn't think he'd have a chance to play first grade. I told him that he would, that I'd find a place for him, but he had a huge offer from Wests Tigers," Bennett says. Prince signed and, a few days later, Brisbane's incumbent half-back told Bennett that he was retiring.

If Prince had any doubts about whether his old club coach rated him, however, they have been set to rest this year. Prince led the Tigers to a totally unexpected NRL Premiership and was on the celebration bus the day after the Grand Final when his mobile phone started ringing. "I had a phone call from a couple of mates to tell me I was in the Tri-Nations squad," says Prince, who knew that the first-choice scrum-half, Andrew Johns, was out injured, but still did not expect to be called up.

"I thought they'd bring another forward or an outside back, so it was completely unexpected. I knew I'd had a good season, but I was still surprised. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself, but the only way to repay that sort of faith in me is to play well."

He will certainly be hoping for a better night in Wigan than he had in nearby Bolton in his only previous game in Britain. On his Broncos debut, they were beaten by St Helens in the 2001 World Club Challenge on a night of thunder and hail. "It was crazy," he recalls. "A night I'll never forget. I'm hoping it won't be like that again."

One crucial difference is that, at 25, Prince is a much more seasoned player than he was that bleak night at the Reebok Stadium. "He's much more mature. He's got the confidence now to take the team around the park," says Bennett. "He's not looking over his shoulder any more."

At the same time - and after a season when he has not missed a match with the Tigers - Prince retains a boyish enthusiasm for what lies ahead. "I'm just feeling fresh and eager about the whole thing, especially now I've been named in the team. Winning the Grand Final was just awesome and I haven't come back to reality yet."

Apart from former Broncos team-mates, Prince is familiar with other members of the Kangaroos squad from playing State of Origin with them for Queensland. In the laid-back way typical of visiting Australians in their first week here, however, he has not exactly made an in-depth study of tomorrow's opposition.

Like most of his team-mates, he opted to watch Chelsea play Blackburn in the Premiership last Saturday, rather than Great Britain losing to New Zealand a few miles away at Loftus Road.

He got back to the team hotel in time to watch the second half on television. "Britain were very good in patches," he says. "But they'll be pretty disappointed with the way they played over the whole game."

In the absence of Rob Burrow, on the field for that second half but dropped this week, and Sean Long, his opponent in 2001 but out injured this time, Prince admits to knowing little about tomorrow's opposite number, Paul Deacon.

"The key for us is to worry about the way we play," says Prince, with the air, none the less, of a young man who did most of his worrying much earlier in his career.