Knights star Steve Simpson chooses family before country

STEVE Simpson will put family before football and inform Australian Rugby League selectors that he is unavailable if he is named today in their preliminary squad for the end-of-season World Cup.

Simpson's wife Jacqui is due to deliver their second child in early October, an event he says takes priority over the World Cup, which kicks off on October 25 and culminates in the final at Suncorp Stadium on November 22.

The Kangaroos will announce a 40-man squad today, which will eventually be reduced to a maximum of 24 players.

Simpson, who has played in only seven games for Newcastle this season after being sidelined with knee and ankle injuries, might appear an outsider for national honours.

But the flint-hard forward is rated highly by national coach Ricky Stuart on the strength of his previous service at representative level for NSW and Australia.

The 28-year-old played for NSW in Origin II this season and was contacted recently by officials from Ireland, who inquired about whether he was interested in representing the country of his mother's birth.

Simpson politely declined their offer and said yesterday he would provide a similar response if selected in the initial Kangaroos squad.

"I don't think so, at this stage," Simpson said yesterday, when asked if he would be available.

"Obviously my wife, Jacqui, is due at the start of October. We've got another little boy, Roy, and he's only 18 months old, so it's going to be a pretty tough time for us.

"I've thought about it and family comes first.

"It's going to be a pretty hectic time, and if the baby comes later I don't want to be off training. I want to be here for my wife and my family."

Even with Simpson out of contention, the Knights should still have a strong representation in the Kangaroos squad.

Fullback Kurt Gidley will be one of the first players picked, and skipper Danny Buderus is expected to be named as back-up hooker to Melbourne's Cameron Smith.

Prop Ben Cross, who played two games for NSW during the Origin series and also featured in Melbourne's grand final win last season, shapes as another contender.

Several other Knights players, including Aku Uate and Wes Naiqama (Fiji) and Richie Fa'aoso (Tonga) are set to represent minnow nations at the World Cup.

Simpson, meanwhile, is confident he will be fit for Monday night's crucial game against Parramatta at EnergyAustralia Stadium.

He has missed the past three games with hip and ankle problems but hopes to be training at full capacity by tomorrow.

"I'd say on Saturday morning I'll try to do as much as I can in that session, and hopefully I'll be right to go," Simpson said yesterday.

"It's still a little bit swollen and a little bit sore, but it seems to be improving every day. I'd be a good chance of playing, I'd say."

ARL chief executive Geoff Carr said that the squad named today was not set in stone and players could be added if injuries arise.

The final Australian squad for the tournament will be announced on October 6.

Australia, defending World Cup champions, begin their campaign against New Zealand at the Sydney Football Stadium on October 26.