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Despite having one of the two incumbent USA hookers back in camp in Chris Biller, it seems Tolkin wants to see more. Hooker is one of the key positions Tolkin likes to have depth; he is looking to stockpile players at 2, 9, 10 and 15. So having Biller back is nice, but he wants more.
So James Hilterbrand from Manly is now on the radar. Hilterbrand can play both prop and hooker, as did Phil Thiel before him, and that’s a big plus. His set piece work is probably his best asset. Hilterbrand is big, strong, tough, can throw accurately, and can handle himself in the scrum.
Ray Forrester, despite playing at prop for most this season at BYU, can play very nicely at hooker, and perhaps will line up there. He is part of a group of talented players at that position coming out of the college game – Mike Shepherd, Jaime Kelm, Jamie Gregory, Camron Falcon, Gabe Sochanek.
One of those, and certainly the most active, is Andrew Cook. The heart and
soul of the St. Mary’s team, Cook is not large, but can slide over to flank
if the situation warranted. He’s in the camp in part just to see how he can
operate. Do you need a big bruising #2? Maybe, maybe not. If the guy can
take care of the set piece and pound people, fine. If he can take care of
the set piece and cover the field and poach ball, that’s good, too.
What about doing all three? That’s the attraction of Derek Asbun. The former Cal captain and current Oxford Blue, Asbun has played 6, 7, 8, and 2. He wouldn’t be the first flanker from Cal to be converted to hooker and make the Eagles (Joe Welch, Kirk Khasigian). He has exactly the right attitude, works enormously hard, is very smart, and is perhaps a tad small for an international flanker.
If anyone can make the transition quickly, it’s Asbun.
And finally that leaves us with Biller. Chris Biller has spent the season
training with pro teams Bath and Northampton. He didn’t get much playing
time, but he wasn’t expected to. He has a number of skills – he is
powerful, likes to hit, and runs with the ball very well. His performance
in the scrums for the Eagles was hard to measure because the scrum
struggled through a series of coaches and a tumultuous year. In lineouts he
The issue with Biller is, he could be better. He has all the ability to be a force, but hasn’t taken hold of the position, hasn’t been a constant impact at rucks, or on defense. He has a frustrating habit of counter-rucking when it’s a lost cause.
So the door is open. Tolkin’s decision to look at the variety of players he is considering for hooker makes it plain. Do not be surprised if you see some changes.