Most of the pre-match build-up for today’s meeting between Wigan and Widnes has concentrated on a man who could be playing for either team, but will turn out for neither.
Gareth Hock joined Widnes on a season-long loan from Wigan at the start of the year, on condition that he did not play against his former club in any competition. That did not prevent the Vikings’ coach, Denis Betts, from complaining this week about the restriction. “They must be afraid of him,” he said. That infuriated his opposite number Shaun Wane, once Betts’ Wigan team-mate. “I don’t care whether Gaz plays or not,” Wane insisted. “We don’t make stupid and ridiculous remarks like Denis has done.”
Although Hock’s failure to settle at Wigan after they stood by him during his two-year ban for taking cocaine makes it highly unlikely that he will ever play for them again, it is they, of the two clubs, who could really use him this evening. A mounting injury list deprives them of Harrison Hansen, Epalahame Lauaki, Gil Dudson, Lee Mossop and Paul Prescott – all of whom would be bidding for places in the pack if they were fit.
There are also doubts over two other forwards, Chris Tuson and the in-form Wigan captain, Sean O’Loughlin, but better news of full-back Sam Tomkins, who should have recovered from a leg knock that kept him out of the narrow defeat at Leeds last weekend. The 19-year-old Welsh prospect Rhodri Lloyd is also added to the squad.
Another compensation for Wigan is that the second-rower who has effectively replaced Hock, Liam Farrell, has been the best forward in Super League so far this season.
Widnes were without Hock at the Catalan Dragons last week, while he served a one-match suspension after being sent off for dissent against Bradford. It says something about his ability that he can figure so heavily in the calculations for another game in which he is not playing.
The Bulls and the Dragons are in a log-jam of teams on eight points, just behind the league leaders, and they meet in Perpignan today. The Catalans are still without Brent Webb and Scott Dureau, so much of the organisational responsibility will rest upon former Bradford stand-off Leon Pryce. Bradford have Matt Diskin and Chev Walker back after injury.
At Twickenham, Tony Rea names an unchanged London Broncos squad to face Hull after the confidence boost of last weekend’s win at Castleford.
Saturday’s only game was supposed to be Cas’ trip to Hull KR, but Wakefield, whose game at home to Leeds was snowed off Friday, are now hoping to stage it on Saturday afternoon.