Hodge retained as Cheika pares Wallabies squad

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia coach Michael Cheika cut six players from his wider training squad on Friday, still leaving him with a bumper pool of 33 players from which to select his matchday 23 for next week's first test against England.

Cheika appears determined to keep his cards close to his chest before the start of the three-test series at Lang Park in Brisbane next Saturday.

The departure of winger Eto Nabuli, scrumhalf Joe Powell, lock Adam Coleman and number eight Leroy Houston were no great surprise, while Liam Gill suffers from the surfeit of top class openside flankers in Australia and James Hanson is the third choice hooker.

One mild surprise was the retention of inexperienced centre Reece Hodge, who came into the training camp as a late replacement for the injured Mike Harris.

"Reece has really impressed me this week after being thrown into the deep end," Cheika said in a news release.

"It's not just about being in the environment for him now and I know he'll be pushing for selection in the match day 23."

The midfield partnership is probably Cheika's biggest selection conundrum given the absence of Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua through injury, and the incumbent inside centre Matt Giteau because of his French club commitments.

Hodge is one of seven uncapped players in the squad along with scrumhalf Nick Frisby, centre Samu Kerevi, outside backs Karmichael Hunt and Dane Haylett-Petty, prop Alan Alaalatoa and lock Rory Arnold.

"We had a great week in Caloundra and the competition for spots has been intense during each of the sessions," Cheika added.

"All of the players in the broader squad will be picked at some point during the series and I know that any of them could step in if asked at anytime."


Backs: Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Nick Frisby, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Rob Horne, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Luke Morahan, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Nick Phipps

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Greg Holmes, Michael Hooper, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Stephen Moore, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Toby Smith

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)

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