Ellis hoping for warm reception on territory of new club’s rivals

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When prompted about his memories of playing at Hull KR, a rather sheepish England coach Steve McNamara regaled earlier this week how he once accidently punched an unsuspecting touch judge at the ‘old’ Craven Park.

The incident occurred while he was playing for Hull’s ‘A’ side in the early stages of his blossoming career and the derby game had, typically, erupted into a “bit of a scuffle.”

Thankfully, officials recognised the wayward shot was never intentional and so McNamara – never known as a pugilistic player – did not find himself on the end of some Draconian suspension.

But the recollection led him into a discussion about the generic passion and intensity of all things rugby league in Hull and how, given the locals’ deep knowledge of the sport, it is such a worthy venue for today’s game against France.

Apparently, England players were “blown away” by the reception they received before, during and after last year’s game versus the Kiwis at Hull’s KC Stadium.

For while visiting Super League players traditionally get a hostile welcome to both the city’s clubs, when it comes to Team England there is a real unity.

That is partly the reason for taking this afternoon’s fixture to the other side of the river, although it makes for an interesting 80 minutes for one player in particular.

After returning from his successful four-year spell in Australia, England second-row Gareth Ellis will play for Hull FC from 2013.

He has yet to get settled there due to his on-going international commitments but his first competitive action will, ironically, be at the home of their arch-rivals.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Ellis. “It’s my first game in Hull, albeit on the other side.

“It’s no surprise that the RFL hold an international in Hull because the people there love their rugby league.

“I’m sure there will be a big crowd and everyone in Hull will get behind the game.

“Will the crowd boo me? Who knows. Hopefully I’ve not done anything wrong to them yet so they might look fondly on me.

“Hopefully I can play well enough for England that they get behind me. It will be an experience one way or another.”

Given Hull KR had only been in Super League two seasons before he departed Leeds Rhinos for Wests Tigers in 2008, Ellis is not too familiar with Craven Park.

“I’ve played there a few times before I went to the NRL and it was always a tough game,” he said.

“Hull KR usually come away with some big wins on home turf but hopefully it will be a good place for England.

“I don’t think Leeds were particular favourites of Hull KR but I don’t remember getting too much stick.

“It’s a big rugby league town and whether it’s a hostile crowd or one that’s behind you, it tends to bring out the best in you.”

The 31-year-old linked up brilliantly with young Leeds centre Kallum Watkins as England thrashed Wales 80-12 a week ago.

McNamara is expected to keep the pairing for today’s game against a French side who should show considerably more resolve.

Ellis admits being dazzled by the running skills of the exciting tyro and said: “I probably missed out on him a little bit at Leeds.

“He was just coming through so I never really got to play that much rugby with him.

“But he always looked like he was going to be a great player and it was just a matter of time before he found his feet and stamped his authority on Super League.

“He’s been doing that and has obviously been rewarded with his selection for England.

“He doesn’t look out of place at all. In fact, he looks like he’s going to be a superstar.

“We’ve struck up a bit of a combination on that right edge and it’s good to play with someone so talented.”

With the 2013 World Cup just 12 months away, it will be beneficial to McNamara having Ellis back on these shores in readiness for that tournament.

Undoubtedly, the Australian experience has honed him into one of the world’s greatest players but, rather surprisingly, he concedes he was never fully confident of making the grade in the NRL.

“It was quite a daunting thing to go out there,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I always had it at the back of my mind that I could come home after a year if it didn’t work out.

“But the reality was that I absolutely loved it, on and off the field.

“Getting (Wests) player of the year three out of the four years I was there probably surpassed what I thought I could do.

“I went to achieve some goals and be a success.

“I probably didn’t think it would work out as well as it did but it was brilliant and I loved every minute.

“It was great for the whole family. We had a little boy over there, which was fantastic.

“Not only ourselves, but my mum and dad have been over five or six times, so it gave them the opportunity to travel.

“My sister came over for a year so it was just great all-round for us as a family and the extended family.

“We lived in the inner west of Sydney, which was only 15 minutes from the city centre, just on the Parramatta River.

“That was probably the best bit; the rugby league side was good but actually living there was probably the best bit.

“I suppose it’s now a matter of getting back to England, readjusting and settling back in.”

Hull fans, though, will be pleased to know he has not finished yet.

Anyone thinking Ellis will be easing back into the less intense Super League and winding down his career knows little about his character and desire.

“I can’t just be happy with what I’ve done,” he said.

“I’m looking to improve as a player and go up another level.”

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk