From Wembley to Melbourne

IT took Ryan Hoffman 12 months and one day to make the journey from Wembley Stadium to last night’s Melbourne-Cronulla game – and this writer did the trip, door to door, in just 36 and a half hours.

But there’s no doubting which trek was more interesting.

The weekend just passed, a year ago, Hoffman was sitting in the middle of arguably the world’s most famous stadium following Wigan’s 28-18 win over Leeds in the Challenge Cup final.

On Monday night, the 28-year-old posted two tries in Melbourne’s remarkable 20-18 success over the Sharks, secured when centre Will Chambers scored with just 25 seconds left.

His second touchdown, which saw him drive towards the line to ground the ball one-handed with two minutes left, made the epic victory possible.

“It’s amazing that it’s 12 months,” the former Australia back-rower told NRL.com.

“I went away, achieved a lot, had a lot of different experiences, and then to come back to the NRL... I’ve been happy with the way I’ve come back.

“To stand in a place like Wembley... they only let the big people play there, whether it’s a sporting team or whether it’s musicians. Only the stars get to play there.

“It was a very special moment to be sitting out there with all the boys, having a beer and to have the Challenge Cup trophy right in the middle of the most famous ground in the world.”

This year Warrington lifted the “coop”, 35-18 with Leeds again the bridesmaids. Brett Hodgson was man-of-the-match while Australian compatriots Joel Monaghan and Trent Waterhouse made it onto the scoresheet.

Hoffman says he practices chasing halfback Cooper Cronk’s kicks – the manoeuvre that brought him his MNF first try – and hasn’t given up hope of donning the green and gold again in next year’s World Cup, which just happens to include a semi-final double-header at Wembley.

“I’m definitely confident in my ability to play rep footy again,” he said.

This year, stewards stopped Warrington players taking their beers out onto the pitch at fulltime. Instead, they sat on the closest seats they could to savour their triumph.

There was a hint of a possible controversy that will confront the NRL in the finals when fullback Hodgson appeared to be knocked out in the 43rd minute by a heavy Kylie Leuluai hit.

The ball was jolted loose, Leeds’ Brett Delaney claimed a try and video referee Phil Bentham watched so many replays he could have been forgiven for falling into a trance.

The scoreboard flashed “scrum feed, defence” but it was the attack (Leeds) which Richard Silverwood awarded the put-in. There was no penalty for the tackle.

“Kyle Leuluai dislodges the ball legally and it was a disallowed try – I thought that was a big, big part of what happened in the second half,” Leeds coach Brian McDermott said afterwards.

“I didn’t see a knock-on from anybody.”

Leuluai also lamented a missed Lee Briers knock-on. “Those two errors, I feel, from the referees were crucial,” he said.

The relevance to the NRL finals? Hodgson not only continued despite his concussion but set up the next two tries, scored one himself and was awarded the Lance Tood Trophy as man of the match.

He said he didn’t remember much of the tackle – something NRL players are now too scared to say for fear of getting their club medicos in trouble and having to sit out a match.

Are we seriously expecting players in a similar situation as Hodgson to be banned from playing on in a final under the NRL’s new concussion guidelines?

“It’s hard to differentiate when you shouldn’t be allowed to continue. It will be difficult to police,” Hodgson admitted when I spoke to him.

“They asked me where we’re at, who we played last week, what’s the score, who scored last, whether you’ve got pins and needles ...”

Hoffman's memories of that big day a year ago are thankfully complete.

He did not envy his inquisitor, the filing from Wembley McDonalds, the private cab to Heathrow, the 14-hour flight to Singapore, the nine hour trek to Melbourne, more filing from the coffee shop at Tullamarine, four hours’ sleep and a night at the footy.

“Go home,” he said eventually. “Get some bloody sleep.”