Smith hands Hock England start
Thursday 23 October 2008
Gareth Hock has rehabilitated himself so successfully from the season's worst example of indiscipline that he will start for England in their World Cup opener on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Wigan back-rower seemed to have blown his chances of figuring in the tournament when he was banned for five games for grabbing the referee, Ian Smith, during the match against Huddersfield. It confirmed the general view of him as talented but temperamentally unsound.
"But I have been so impressed with him since he came back that I have a lot of faith in him now," said the England coach, Tony Smith, in Australia last night.
Smith was not announcing the rest of his team to face Papua New Guinea until today, but he let it be known that Hock will start in the second row.
"He's learnt a hard lesson," Smith said. "He's big and physical and I admire the way he's played at the back end of the year.
"We spoke about the things in his past and he shares my view that they are in his past. He has really matured."
Another player who has had his share of disciplinary problems in the past will also line up to face PNG. Adrian Morley sat out the warm-up game against Wales with a torn stomach muscle. "But he was always going to be fit for this game," said Smith, hinting that he might possibly be a substitute.
The Papuans have already named their team, with Salford's John Wilshere captaining them from full-back and the talismanic Stanley Gene at loose forward.
Australia have named four uncapped players in their side to face New Zealand on Sunday. They are the Canberra winger, Joel Monaghan, the Gold Coast second-rower, Anthony Laffranchi, and the Manly forwards, Glenn Stewart and Josh Perry.
The centre combination of Greg Inglis and Israel Folau is the youngest Australia have ever fielded.
The Kiwis have been able to select all three players who had been regarded as injury doubts – Lance Hohaia, Manu Vatuvei and captain Nathan Cayless.
The final two nations to name their captains have done so, with Lopeni Paea leading Tonga and Wes Naiqama captaining Fiji.
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