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World Cup scouting report - Hock

Gareth Hock
Second rower Hock gives Wigan a much-needed cutting edge going forward

BBC Sport is embarking on a series of scouting missions to find out which of Super League's young guns should be on the plane to Australia for the World Cup.

After profiling Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Luke Burgess, we decided to cast our eyes over Wigan second rower Gareth Hock.

The 24-year-old has already won over a lot of you, if the following views are anything to go by:

He is a physical freak, an absolute beast. He can take the game to the Aussies with Jamie Peacock and Gareth Ellis, and will never take a backwards step. Has the skills and brutal strength and athleticism to pave the way for our stars to bring home the World Cup!
Rick Ambler

Strong up front. Drives the ball well. Brilliant defender.

Gareth is not only a solid and a strong second row, he has a huge passion for rugby league that I believe is unrivalled in Super League. When team-mates such as Trent Barrett and Thomas Leuluai are being closed down clever defences, Gareth Hock will always rise to the occasion and take matters into his own hands.
Thomas Smith

Now find out what our man thought when he went to see Gareth in action against Warrington at the JJB Stadium.

By George Riley

Brian Noble is not a man who likes picking out individuals. So when he does, you tend to listen to what he has to say.

"Gareth Hock showed just why we have great raps on him up here at Wigan. I think he's going to be a great back rower," the Wigan coach told me outside a buzzing Warriors dressing room just after they'd beaten Warrington 38-14 last Friday.

"He's shown the kind of skills, talent and prowess that we're hoping he will, and Gaz is definitely a Test-match player."

Noble's high praise of Hock followed an absolutely outstanding individual performance from the player in what was his 100th Super League game for the Warriors.

Wolves coach Paul Cullen was as downbeat as I've seen him in a long, long time after a game they looked like winning turned into a thumping defeat.

"We failed to handle Gareth Hock and Iafeta Paleaaesina," was his post-match verdict. "You can't give power athletes that much ball and field position."

Wigan were outplayed in the first half despite Hock's best efforts.

The very first drive of the game saw him thunder up the middle, bouncing off Warrington's big boys, before he decided to offload to the effervescent Micky Higham, who scampered clear.

"Wigan have been missing this," said my co-commentator on Five Live Sports Extra, the St Helens forward Jon Wilkin.

"Gaz gives Wigan some difference, some subtlety around the ruck and great offloads."

Wigan took the lead four minutes in, and again Hock was to the fore.

Another sublime offload found its way to Tommy Leuluai via a Warrington hand, and a powerful burst from Andy Coley allowed George Carmont to crash over in the left corner.

This was an early sign that Hock meant business. He was, as they say, in the zone, and with the exception of a first-half knock-on, his display was flawless.

BBC Sport's George Riley

The magic mostly happened after half-time - Wigan emerging from the tunnel 14-8 adrift and requiring an urgent spark.

This was provided spectacularly by Hock, Trent Barrett and Paleaaesina, as three tries in seven, dynamic minutes allowed them to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

First, Hock ran laterally, straightened, drawing the contact and providing a great offload for Barrett to scamper through via a show and go.

With the scores level after a Pat Richards conversion, Hock again broke on the kick return, powering through the left centre channel and ruthlessly exposing Kevin Penny, who had a night to forget.

Hock fed Leuluai, who put in Liam Colbon for an easy score.

In the blink of an eye, Hock's direct running and subtle hands had created two tries for his team, turning a six-point deficit into a six-point lead, and triggering a 30-0 run.

Fitting, too, that after a second try for Barrett, Hock himself touched down to seal victory after reacting fastest to a loose ball.

He's certainly got a lot of strings to his bow... he's big and strong and has great footwork

Trent Barrett on Hock

As the home side ran riot, my mobile phone started to vibrate in my pocket.

It was my Wigan-supporting pal, eager to clarify the quality of this performance.

"Hock is the best 2nd row in GB bar none," his text read, a claim that my co-commentator, Mr Wilkin, responded to with a knowing look - given he'll be vying for the same World Cup place!

"Tonight he certainly has been," said Jon, laughing.

"But we'll be competing for the same shirt, so I won't big him up too much. He's OK!"

Perhaps prepared for adversity by his council estate upbringing, Gaz has bounced back in style from a horrific run of injuries.

Super League Young Player of The Year in 2003, then a 15-month lay-off following a knee reconstruction in 2005, the Wigan-born player has since overcome a stress fracture of his shin and served a couple of bans this year.

But his resilience has not gone unnoticed.

"Gaz has grown up a lot this year," Noble told me.

Gareth Hock
Hock's big strengths are his direct running and impressive offloads

"We've not seen a lot of him out on the field because of injury and a couple of suspensions, but the more we keep him out there the more influential he'll be.

"He's still got the same talents, but his body is better now and his approach to games and preparation during the week is second to none."

Few are better placed to assess Hock's World Cup chances than Noble, the man who gave him a GB shirt for the 2006 Tri-Nations in Australia and New Zealand.

"I picked him for Australia and he showed up for Test matches then so he'll do it in the World Cup," added Noble.

Hock's team-mates agree - and when one of the best half-backs in world rugby sings your praises as a forward, you know you are something special.

I walked towards the post-match buffet with Barrett.

"Gaz was outstanding, mate, he's a terrific player," he said.

"He's certainly got a lot of strings to his bow. He's big and strong and has great footwork. He just needs to play more footy.

"He's had a bit of a disrupted two years so the more footy he plays the better he's gonna get.

His body is better now and his approach to games and preparation during the week is second to none

Brian Noble on Hock

"In my position I rely a lot on people around me, and he's the kind of player I love playing with. He's aggressive, he runs good lines and he's a competitor. We need more like him."

I'm not sure praise comes much higher than that.

So, to the big question, Trent. How certain is Hock's place on that World Cup plane?

"I'd pick him for the World Cup, George," said the former Australian international, a World Cup winner in 2000. "He's a game-breaker and you need him in the side.

"I'd start him for England, there has to be a place for him in the 13 somewhere.

"He's matured as a person the last 12 months and I think playing under someone like Tony Smith he'd learn a lot and it would make him as a player."

As I hovered outside the home dressing room, wondering how the sponsors had chosen Richards as man of the match, I heard from the Wigan players that they had chosen Hock as their top man.

No surprise there. This was the latest in a lengthening list of man-of-the-match performances from the 24-year-old this year.

Gareth Hock
Hocks has been dogged by injury

He blitzed a big Bradford Bulls pack in the Warriors win in March and said at the time: "I feel fitter, stronger and more confident this year. A World Cup place with England is my target."

Hock hot-footed it to the after-match feed before I could shower him in praise on Friday.

So my final post-match chinwag was with a Wigan fan buying a post-match four-pack of lager at a service station on my way back towards the M6.

"Pretty impressive that, mate," I said. "What did you make of Hock?"

"Wow, he said, clutching his celebratory beverages, before wondering why a strange man in a BBC jacket was attempting conversation by a petrol pump.

After walloping the Wolves forwards, you can't see anything other than injury denying Hock his place in England's World Cup 17.

And you just hope that the jinx doesn't strike again.

see also
Wigan 38-14 Warrington
16 May 08 |  Rugby League
World Cup scouting report - Burgess
02 Apr 08 |  Rugby League
World Cup scouting report - Scarsbrook
18 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
World Cup wonders - Who should go to Oz?
29 Jan 08 |  Rugby League

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