Batley Bulldogs v Featherstone Rovers: Happy Hock planning ahead as he settles into Championship life
GIVEN he answered his phone from the hot-tub in his back garden, life in the Championship seems to be suiting Featherstone Rovers' Gareth Hock just fine.
“I’d just taken my four dogs out and thought I’d jump in while the kids are still at school,” the ex-England second-row explained later.
Approaching his 35th birthday, and having moved up to prop in recent times, he needs as much rest and relaxation as possible especially as he could be running up Mount Pleasant’s famous hill when Featherstone head to Batley Bulldogs tomorrow.
On-field matters are a little less glitzier than they used to be for the explosive former Super League forward who, of course, featured in the last Great Britain side to beat Australia over in Sydney in 2006.
But having dropped back down to the second-tier after being back in the top-flight with Leigh Centurions last year, Hock is enjoying his football.
“I never thought I’d see it happen me playing for a Yorkshire club,” said the veteran, who played almost 200 games for hometown Wigan Warriors before spells with Widnes Vikings, Salford Red Devils and Leigh.
“But it has and I’m loving it. The lads at Fev are great. I thought the travelling would be a bit hard but it’s been alright.
“There’s a few of us that come from Wigan way – Martin Ridyard, Connor Farrell, Robinson and Brooks.
“Obviously Championship football is a bit different; the pitches aren’t the best and it’s a tough old league but it’s a good competition. I’m still trying to get my fitness up as I didn’t do a pre-season due to an operation and the weather’s not been great either.
“But I’m getting there. I got some offers from Super League clubs. In fact, I almost went back to Wigan but something fell through with another player that meant that didn’t happen as it would have been over the cap.
“I’d hoped to do a year there but it wasn’t meant to be and I’m glad in a way as it’s helped give me chance to think about things after rugby.”
With Featherstone training part-time, he has time to think about a future career.
“I’ve got a mate who’s a sponsor at Warrington and I’ve been working with him,” explained Hock.
“He’s into creative concreting and he’s been teaching me the trade, driveways and concrete patterning, stuff like that.
“He doesn’t need me but he’s helping me out and I’m enjoying getting out; I wouldn’t like being stuck in offices.
“I’ve got a few opportunities I can look at and I’m going to weigh things up and see what’s best.
“I might even do another year (playing) yet. We’ll see how the body feels later on.”
Featherstone’s only defeat so far was at unbeaten Championship leaders London Broncos and they are backing up after Tuesday’s Challenge Cup victory over North Wales Crusaders.
Hock believes Rovers can reach the Qualifiers once more and make their own bid for promotion.
“We’ve been playing well,” he said.
“We’ve maybe slacked off a little the last couple of weeks with a few injuries and dual-reg stuff but we do have a good squad here. I don’t see why not when it comes to getting to those Middle Eights.
“Batley will be tough, though. They always are especially on their pitch.”
Hock, of course, spent two years out of the sport after testing positive for cocaine in 2009.
He, then, knows what Zak Hardaker, his former England team-mate, is going through after the Castleford Tigers full-back tested positive for the same substance last autumn and was subsequently sacked by the League Leaders’ Shield winners.
Hock added: “I spoke to Zak and told him he can come back from this as I managed to.
“He’s made a silly mistake but he still has plenty of time. I’m sure he’ll come back strong.
“I came back better and got straight back into the England side so I’m sure he can do the same as long as he keeps training and keeps his head focused. He’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, young Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman could make his Featherstone debut after joining on dual-registration terms.
Prop Scott Wheeldon (arm), Misi Taulapapa (banned) and Danny Maskill are out with Mitch Clark - on loan from Castleford – and dual-registered Leeds prop Jack Ormondroyd in contention.