Hoffman lends his local knowledge to Wigan's tilt at slaying Dragons
The Warriors' Australian import knows what it takes to win a World Club Challenge, reports Dave Hadfield
Saturday 26 February 2011
Big match experience comes in many forms. For Ryan Hoffman, it means playing in as many World Club Challenges as he has had competitive matches for Wigan.
Hoffman is part of the shockwave from the Melbourne Storm that promises to wash ashore and make Wigan, the holders of the Super League title, even better this season.
He and fellow-travellers Brett Finch and Jeff Lima represent the fall-out from the biggest scandal in rugby league for years. The Storm were heavily fined and stripped of the Premierships they won in 2007 and 2009 for systematically cheating on their salary cap.
Hence the wanderings of the Melbourne Three as sacrificial victims whilst their club has tried desperately to reduce its wage bill. Hoffman played in those two Grand Final victories and the verdict on his club has not extinguished his pride in the achievements.
"As far as I'm concerned, I won two Premierships. I was there when the trophy was handed out and I've got the photos to prove it," he says.
Those two successes led to two World Club Challenges – a loss to Leeds in 2008 and a win over them last year – and if his third tilt at that trophy has come in unexpected circumstances, he is determined to make the most of it.
"I know from coming over here before that it's a big experience and that it's a great thing to be able to call yourself world champions," he says.
Of the Melbourne Three, only Hoffman has the chance to do that with a second club when Wigan face St George Illawarra tomorrow night – Finch is injured and Lima suspended.
"I'm disappointed for both of them, but it feels a bit strange to me as well, because I've only just arrived." Coming to Wigan was not quite a leap in the dark for the Kangaroo second-rower, because it reunited him with former Melbourne assistant coach Michael Maguire. He admits, however, that he knew little about some of his younger team-mates – and that has made him all the more impressed now that he has had a game or two alongside them.
"I hadn't heard much about Liam Farrell when I came out here, but whether it's training or playing, the guy is just relentless. I thought Josh Charnley was absolutely fantastic for us in Cardiff. He was really unlucky to be left out the week after, but that just shows the competition for places. And I've been really impressed by Michael McIlorum, his pace, ball skills and his sheer tenacity."
How much of the future development of those players he will see is unclear. He has signed initially for only one year at Wigan and there is a theory that he is keeping a shirt warm for the return of Gareth Hock from a drugs ban and that he will be back in the bosom of the Storm next year.
For as long as he is here, he has much know-how to pass on, not least about this week's opposition. "They're a proud team, but you would expect nothing less from a Wayne Bennett side. They are very, very persistent. They just keep turning up for each other, play after play."
Speaking before Bennett's dash back to Australia due to family illness, Hoffman raised half an eyebrow at the strategy of staying in London until Thursday and not playing a warm-up. "They will have had their own reasons for doing it that way," he says.
Hoffman picks out the centre partnership of Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier as a particular danger. "They are as good a pair as there's been in Australia for a long time," he says. "But Martin Gleeson and George Carmont aren't exactly mugs either."
Maguire is waiting for Gleeson's fitness test on a tweaked hamstring, but fully expects him to be fit. "Having Glees out there makes a hell of a difference," he said.
With Nick Emmett ruled out, Bennett's stand-in, Steve Price, has named 13 members of last year's Grand Final-winning squad in his 17.
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