Hoffman's hopes: First Boyd, then Kiwis call-up

When Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman lines up against Wayne Bennett’s Knights this Friday night, it will be about more than just heading home with the two competition points. For Hoffman, taking on the great fullbacks has always been somewhat of a personal challenge and in Newcastle’s Darius Boyd the recently turned 24-year-old sees a lot of the player he wants to be.

“He (Boyd) has been around for a while now and it’s always a challenge for me when I come up against guys like him, Billy Slater and Jarryd Hayne,” he tells NRL.com. “They’re superstars in their own right so I like to try and learn a bit of stuff from them and hopefully I can put it into my own game.

“Obviously he is one of the best fullbacks going around and he is unpredictable. I think he has done a lot of work on his passing as well so it’s going to be a tough one for us this week.

“Hopefully we can shut down any opportunity he gets on the outside. It’s something that us back three will really work on so we can read when he is coming into the backline. We’ll be looking closely at him in the lead-up.

“So yeah, it is a challenge and I always make it a goal of mine during the game to pick where they are and try to outplay my opposite number.”

While Boyd has been named in the No.1 jersey for the Knights this week, there is some irony in the fact that he had previously been touted as a possible replacement in the halves for injured captain Kurt Gidley.

Hoffman, too, has toyed with such a move. Last October, shortly after club legend Darren Lockyer had played his final game for the club, the exciting young fullback threw his hat into the ring as a potential five-eighth option in 2012 – and although coach Anthony Griffin quickly knocked that idea on head, he remains keen to make the switch at some stage in the future.

“I threw that out there to let the coach know that I’m an option there but he is happy having me there at fullback,” said Hoffman, who played much of his junior footy in the No.6. “I mean, I can also come in there at second receiver and chime in there too – a bit similar to Billy Slater and Darius and blokes like that. There is always that option.

“Fullback is still the position I prefer because I love to return the ball on the kick-returns but it’s a bit different moving to five-eighth. Darren Lockyer did it and hopefully one day I will get that opportunity too.”

Ambition has clearly never been a trait Hoffman has lacked and although his touted move to the halves is still some way off, his immediate aspiration is a call up to the New Zealand side for the upcoming Test next month.

Robbed of a spot on the Four Nations tour last season because of the serious knee injury that also ended his NRL season early, he says he has been in close contact with Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney over the course of his recovery.

“Steve rings me up now and again just to see how things are going – making sure the body is holding up well and the knee is good,” he revealed. “It’s always good to hear from him and to know that he still has me in the back of his mind.”

Whether Hoffman can realistically out-point incumbent Test fullback Kevin Locke by April 20 is another matter altogether.

“I’m not too sure,” Hoffman continued. “Kev is going really well. He had a stellar season last year and he has the rights to the black-and-white jersey. I mean, it was disappointing not playing in the Four Nations last year – especially with [team-mates] Gerard Beale and Alex Glenn being in the side. It would have been good to go along with those boys but you can always pray for the Tests and all the other games coming up. The World Cup [next year] – it would be nice to go away for that.

“But even if I can just get mentioned in the [upcoming Test] squad and be around the boys in the camp it would be a good feeling for me. Hopefully I could take a bit out of the camp then and learn something.”

Despite openly spruiking his career ambitions, Hoffman insists he isn’t getting ahead of himself when discussing such lofty goals – be it a future positional switch or his more immediate representative ideals.

Still finding his feet after tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee in early September, he says he is instead focused on regaining full fitness, admitting that: “I’m still suffering a bit with this knee, there is still a bit of muscle soreness that is going on with the ligament. Hopefully the physio can help me with that.

“It’s not so much on the field but just stopping and starting at training and sprinting I get a bit of muscle soreness. Usually the physio gives it a few needles – a bit of acupuncture – and away we go.

“But I’m still trying to mould into the fullback position and work on a few things myself. Hopefully when I get that coming together we can get my combination with the halves going as well – something a bit similar to the Storm and the combination between their big three.

“Other than that, I just want to get through this season injury-free and without too many niggling injuries.”