Rowley happy with Hock decision

Ryan Brierley will make his 100th Leigh appearance against Salford
Ryan Brierley will make his 100th Leigh appearance against Salford
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Leigh coach Paul Rowley is comfortable with his club’s decision to defy Salford by playing England forward Gareth Hock against them in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup fifth-round tie.

Salford owner Marwan Koukash has threatened legal action against Hock if he breaches an agreement not to play against his old club during the next 18 months.

The clause was inserted into the deal agreed between Koukash and the player that saw him released from the last two years of his contract with the Red Devils.

Hock subsequently joined the Championship club, who were paired with their Super League neighbours in the outstanding tie of the fifth round.

The Centurions insist they were not part of the severance agreement and, amidst a public spat on Twitter between Koukash and Leigh football director Derek Beaumont, have opted to play Hock in the televised tie at Leigh Sports Village after taking legal advice.

“It’s been a social media thing and, as a person who doesn’t do social media, I’m only hearing snippets of it,” Rowley said.

“What it has done is brought some attention to the game which is good. It brings attention to the other players I’ve got on show and the other wonderfully-talented people that will be playing.

“It’s all good. We want to attract more media and television coverage to the game.”

The 31-year-old Hock will be making only his third appearance for the Championship leaders after completing a six-match ban imposed for foul play during Salford’s opening home game against St Helens in February.

“Gareth has settled in great,” Rowley said. “He’s had a lot of hard work to do to get up to where he needs to be so he’s still a work in progress but he is working hard and getting better each week.”

Leigh will be without former New Zealand international Fuifui Moimoi, who has a knee injury, while Salford are lacking former Man of Steel Rangi Chase and ex-Leeds and Castleford forward Weller Hauraki because of suspension.

The Centurions are on a club record 20-match winning run, stretching back to their last defeat at Doncaster last July, which followed closely on the heels of their closely-fought Challenge Cup quarter-final exit at Leeds.

For an hour Leigh threatened to spring an upset against the eventual Cup winners, who needed two late tries to secure a 25-12 triumph at Headingley.

“We’ve lost the element of surprise now which we had at Leeds,” Rowley said. “We perhaps sneaked under the radar a bit then.

“I know (Salford head coach) Iestyn (Harris) and (assistant Ian Watson) Watto will be very well prepared and know exactly what to expect from me and my team so it’s going to be a difficult day for us.

“The tie has grown a lot of momentum because we’re so closely located, there is such a cross-over of supporters and players who know each other well. There is going to be a good atmosphere and hopefully it will be a good advert for the game.

“It’s going to be a really tough challenge against a top-four Super League side but we’ll give it our best shot.”

Salford boss Iestyn Harris, who lifted the Cup with Leeds at Wembley in 1999, said: “There is certainly real interest in this game. Leigh have earned the right to be respected after 17 consecutive Championship wins.

“They have good players and they are full-time, so we shall have to prepare as we would for a Super League opposition, to be at our best. We need to go through our processes and to expect a tough game.”

The match will mark the 100th appearance of Leigh’s prolific half-back Ryan Brierley.