HOFFMAN v SLATER… He made his Test debut for New Zealand only last month and tops the NRL for kick-return metres, but Josh Hoffman credits much of his impressive form this season to the influence of his opposite number this week – Billy Slater.
The Broncos fullback grew up idolising Slater and even now spends hours poring over tape of the Queensland and Australian star’s play in an effort to learn the secrets of his success.
“Everyone has their idols and I think every fullback in the game looks at Billy Slater and wants to be like him,” Hoffman told NRL.com ahead of tonight’s clash at AAMI Park. “He is definitely one of my idols.
“Billy has his own attributes and his own skills and I need to focus on my own attributes and skills but I also try and implement some of his stuff into my game. He is one of the greatest fullbacks of all time so it’s good to watch and learn from what he does.”
Hoffman said he had worked hard on his support play during the off-season after returning from a serious knee injury that put a premature end to his 2012.
“I’ve been focusing on a lot of efforts – pushing up on the ball and trying to get around the field in support,” he said. “That’s what Billy does a lot of. He is always pushing up on the ball and looking around for any offloads, sniffing up the middle.
“It’s something I’ve really been trying to concentrate on and put into my game. At the same time, the way that I try to play is to try and get as many metres as I can running the ball back. I guess that’s where a bit of Karmichael (Hunt) comes in.
“It will be interesting to play against Billy [tonight] because he is always getting around and chasing the ball – it’s going to make my job pretty hard but hopefully the boys in front give me a bit of protection with the high ball.”
SAM'S ADVICE FOR GILLETT… Meanwhile Broncos captain Sam Thaiday has warned Maroons rookie Matt Gillett to guard against complacency when he returns to the Brisbane line-up for tonight’s crunch game with Melbourne lest it cost him his spot in first grade.
Thaiday knows only too well that even a slight drop in attitude can translate to poor performance – he himself was dumped by then Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett shortly after he made his State of Origin debut in 2006.
Gillett and prop Ben Hannant (a late call-up) are the only members of the Broncos’ five Queensland representatives slated to back up after the Maroons’ thrilling 18-10 victory on Wednesday night. Thaiday says 23-year-old Gillett in particular will need to return “with his head screwed on”.
“Otherwise he will be in a similar predicament to me,” Thaiday told NRL.com. “Hook [coach Anthony Griffin] probably has the same approach to Wayne in that if you are not performing… you are not playing football… you’ll have to earn your spot back in the team.
“He [Gillett] will have to make sure he doesn’t have his head in the clouds and be focused on what his job is for his club.”
Gillett had a light workload in Wednesday night’s clash, making just five runs and seven tackles for Queensland in 17 minutes on the field. – Nigel Wall
SPECIAL INSPIRATION… Canberra prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has vowed to dedicate victory to the memory of close friend Marie Everingham should the Raiders upset South Sydney at ANZ Stadium tonight. The mother of Learoyd-Lahrs’ best mate Daniel, Everingham passed away two weeks ago after a long battle with breast cancer. The Raiders forward spent the bye weekend back in Tamworth attending her funeral and said she would provide some added inspiration tonight.
“She was a great woman,” he said. “When I was at boarding school back in Tamworth she used to come and pick us up and take us back to her place and feed me up and send me back a bit fatter than when I left. She was a really good woman so it was sad to have to do that last week.
“She has been battling breast cancer for two years but it was still a shock. I’d love to get a win for her this weekend.”
NIGHTINGALE SINGS POSITIVES… St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale has urged his side to take the positives out of last week’s golden-point loss to rivals South Sydney, despite the result confirming that they are the worst side in the NRL when it comes to golden point contests.
The Dragons have now won just one of their nine golden point games since 2006 – that win coming against Newcastle in Round 1 this year. At the time it appeared they may have turned the corner but two golden-point losses in as many weeks to Penrith and the Rabbitohs has pushed the Dragons outside of the top eight and in real danger of falling out of contention during the representative period.
“It’s never easy losing – especially by a point in golden point,” Nightingale said. “It’s a pretty hard way to go down. You’d rather lose in normal time, so it’s been a bit heartbreaking.
“But we showed some good form last week and that’s what we need to keep in mind.
“The week before there were some parts where we lost the game but last week we took a lot of positives out of the game. We need to recognise what we did well and keep doing that.
“I mean, our form isn’t terrible and Origin hasn’t been as draining as it has in previous years.”
Ironically, the last time the Dragons played this week’s opponents, Parramatta, the two sides couldn’t be split as they finished the golden point period locked at 14-all.
Nightingale said his side couldn’t afford to take it easy against the premiership battlers.
“We just have to concentrate on what we’re doing,” he said. “They (Parramatta) weren’t going great guns last time we played them and they almost beat us, so that’s a reminder that you can be beaten by anyone.
“We can’t be worried about what they’re doing, we just have to try and repeat the performance we put in last week, fix up a couple of things and if we can do that we’ll get the two points.”