Veteran utility Lance Hohaia says he feels privileged to become the first player in 21 years – and the only one in NRL history – to contest grand finals in both his first and last seasons as he prepares to farewell the Warriors this weekend.
Hohaia will join a unique club on Sunday night when he becomes just the 14th player since 1908 to achieve the rare feat after coming off the bench in the Warriors’ 32-8 loss to Sydney Roosters in 2002.
He joins English Super League giants St Helens next season on a four-year deal but told NRL.com he would love nothing more than to exit the NRL by helping the Warriors win their maiden premiership.
“I’m pretty lucky I guess – you don’t get too many fairytales in rugby league,” he said.
“It’s not over yet but hopefully I can be celebrating and holding up the trophy at the end of the game. It’s going to be a tense couple of days leading up to the game but I’m just looking forward to preparing as best I can. I feel a lot more relaxed this time than my first time and I just can’t wait to play.”
The last player to farewell rugby league with a grand final appearance after enjoying the same experience in their debut season was John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson in 1990 and if history likes repeating then the signs are good for Hohaia with Ferguson enjoying a memorable victory over Penrith after losing his first outing in 1981.
Hohaia is the last man standing from the Warriors’ 2002 grand final appearance and one of only three Warriors players to have experienced rugby league’s biggest day (alongside former Parramatta duo Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu).
Asked if being there would help this weekend, the 28-year-old said: “Well it does feel similar. I had a great ride that year with my debut season. To be in a grand final in my first year was unreal.
“It’s the same this week, with a lot of hype around the place about the team since we won last Saturday night.
“I do remember that day (in 2002) – not so much the week leading up to it, that was all a bit of a blur to me. I was only a young fella at the time but I definitely remember the game and running out onto the field the first time. The fans and the whole crowd were just unreal so I can’t wait for that feeling again and being able to share the day with my team-mates.
“Everyone is supporting us and backing us to do well, so hopefully we can pull it off this time.”
Hohaia said that he had tried to push his impending departure from the Warriors to the back of his mind but admitted it was hard to ignore now that the end was nigh.
“It feels real to me now,” he said. “At the start of the finals series I didn’t think too much about when my last game would be. I was just trying to enjoy every moment with the boys at training and in the gym. I didn’t want to count down because I wanted to be where we are today.
“Thankfully that approach has worked. We’ve played some great football in the last month – other than the Broncos game – so I’m looking forward to this last hurrah.
“I’ve got some great memories from my 10 years at the club but this will be extra special if we can pull it off. The boys are pretty focused on what they need to do.”
Despite his departure, Hohaia is adamant that he is leaving the club in good hands. The former schoolboy sprint champion was once hailed as one of the most exciting young prospects in the NRL with his raw speed and ability to spot a gap but he said that hole would well and truly be filled by young guns Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke.
“I knew that would be the case at the start of the season,” he said. “I’ve been around these boys for the last three or four years watching them… Elijah Taylor as well. There are some guys in the -20s that will probably be in the top 25 next year. Toyota Cup has been great for us and Sean and Kevin have been standout performers for us this year.
“So the club is in good hands. It’s a new era I guess coming through and I’ll be definitely keeping an eye on those boys in the future.”
Grand Finals in first and last season:
Pat Devery (Balmain 1944 and 1947) W-W
Dave Parkinson (Balmain 1944 and 1948) W-L
Harry Bath (Balmain 1946 and St George 1959) W-W
Kevin Mosman (Balmain 1956 and Manly 1959) L-L
Harry Wells (Souths 1951 and Wests 1961) W-L
Peter Provan (St George 1956 and Balmain 1969) W-W
John Bailey (St George 1975 and 1977) L-W
Steve Butler (St George 1977 and 1979) W-W
Gary Martine (Parramatta 1982 and 1983) W-W
Chris Phelan (Parramatta 1982 and 1984) W-L
Ray Price (Parramatta 1976 and 1986) L-W
Michael Cronin (Parramatta 1977 and 1986) L-W
John Ferguson (Newtown 1981 and Canberra 1990) L-W