League: First-time hooker Henry 'excited, overwhelmed'

By Michael Brown

Kiwis debutant Ben Henry says he's studied the playbook to acclimatise himself to the hooker role. Photo / Getty Images
Kiwis debutant Ben Henry says he's studied the playbook to acclimatise himself to the hooker role. Photo / Getty Images

Players often talk about the journey they take to play for the Kiwis but, in the case of Ben Henry, he really has been on an expedition to face Australia in Friday night's Anzac test.

The 22-year-old had only just returned to Auckland from Melbourne when he got a callup to the Kiwis and was told he needed to be on the first flight the following morning. He soon realised his manager, who lived in Whangaparaoa, had his passport, meaning a late-night dash to collect that before packing, a couple of hours sleep and 4am arrival at the airport.

If that wasn't bad enough, he then had to fly to Sydney via Melbourne, where he had just helped the Warriors to a gritty win over the Storm, and on arrival in Sydney found the person who was supposed to meet him at the airport had forgotten. It was a challenging episode but nothing compared to what faces him on Friday night when he makes his international debut in the unaccustomed position of hooker.

"I've never player there," Henry admitted. "Not even at junior level.

"I'm nervous, excited, happy and overwhelmed. When you look at the opposition, they are all world-class players and I'm being called up to play a position I have never played.

"I was surprised to be asked to play there but it's an opportunity and one I want to take."

It's not likely to precipitate a more permanent switch, with Issac Luke, Thomas Leuluai and Elijah Taylor certainties for the Kiwis when fit, but it adds to Henry's growing utility value.

It has seen him hit the books in preparation for Friday night's game.

"I'm going through the playbook," he said. "Normally I have to pay attention to only one page but at hooker I realise I have to look at everyone else, what plays to run and what certain people like.

"I was asking Siliva [Havili] for tips and tricks I can use on the field. It's good. It keeps me on my toes. The more prepared I am for this game, the better for me.

"I'm looking to facilitate the halves and forwards. If there's room to run, I will take it. [Coach] Stephen Kearney said if you feel the defence is being passive on you, then run - keep them guessing. I'm not looking to do anything flash in the first time in this position."

The NZRL will receive $700,000 from High Performance Sport New Zealand to help with their high performance programme over the next two years.

It's the first time the NZRL have received high performance funding and chief executive Phil Holden said it would assist the Kiwis with development programmes, management support, programmes to build intellectual property around the team and coaching academies.

- NZ Herald

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