As far as world-class forwards are concerned, England might not be sure whether they are coming or going at Hull KR this afternoon.
Gareth Ellis’s appearance in the city where he plans to spend the rest of his career is balanced by the likelihood that the match against France will be one of Gareth Hock’s last as a British-based player.
Although Hock and his club, Wigan, have declined to comment this week, the Australian team Parramatta have revealed that talks to take him to the NRL are well advanced.
That would be the latest twist in a turbulent career. Hock returned last season after a two-year ban for cocaine use, but has been in repeated trouble on the pitch – which might make a fresh start attractive.
Wigan would be loath to lose a player of his undoubted quality, but they could expect a sizeable fee and have plenty of alternatives in the back row of the pack.
If Hock does go, he will be following an increasingly well-trod path for the cream of British players. Only yesterday, the North Queensland Cowboys announced the signing of the former St Helens and Huddersfield hooker Scott Moore, on a two-year contract.
Although the England coach, Steve McNamara, has a 24-man squad to select from, he is resisting the temptation to make many changes.
Warrington’s Ben Harrison is brought in for the hamstring injury victim Sean O’Loughlin, and both Sam Tomkins and Tom Briscoe are expected to start. Tomkins has scored 12 tries in his short England career and needs one more to equal Alf Ellaby’s 77-year-old record.
The French have little excuse for any lack of cohesion, as the bulk of their squad come from the country’s Super League representatives, Catalan Dragons. They include Remy Casty, voted the best prop in the competition last season, but not his partner in the front row David Ferriol or the injured Jamal Fakir. Captain Olivier Elima, who is on his way from Bradford to play for the Dragons next season, promised: “We’re not coming here to get beat. We’re coming to compete and win.”
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