Hoffman's 'shadow' back in Origin frame
Titans fullback Josh Hoffman has praised the manner in which his cousin Dane Gagai has put two career-threatening incidents behind him to rejoin the Origin conversation as the pair prepare to go head-to-head at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday evening.
Although Hoffman has been named in the No.1 jersey for the first time for his new club, he and William Zillman will share the fullback duties throughout the game against the undefeated Knights, giving Hoffman the chance to directly oppose Gagai for the first time in their careers.
When Hoffman shifts to left centre he will have the enviable task of trying to contain one of the form centres of the competition in the Newcastle right centre but spent the early part of the week providing his cousin with a tip sheet on his own left-foot step and right-arm fend.
Three years Hoffman's junior, Gagai's elevation to the Broncos' NRL team in 2011 saw the pair play five NRL games together in Brisbane but just as his career looked set to take off Gagai was sacked for repeated disciplinary breaches.
Last year Gagai's career hit another speed bump when his failure to turn up for a training session while in camp with the Queensland Emerging Origin squad resulted in coach Mal Meninga drawing a line through his name for the 2014 Series.
He was welcomed back to the fold in January this year and with Darius Boyd's long-term injury Gagai is well positioned to earn an Origin call-up in May, a far cry from the 20-year-old who was forced to look for another club after just seven top grade games.
"I didn't get the chance to see him when he left [the Broncos] because it was pretty instant and he left straight away," said Hoffman, who currently has Dane's younger brother Jacob living with him as he forges his own career with the Broncos under-20s.
"It was hard because there was no goodbye or anything, he just left, but I knew that he was a bit sad and a bit down so I just gave him a bit of advice and told him that things would work out in the end.
"You've just got to wait for your time and now time has come and he's doing really well and playing some good footy.
"He means well and ever since he was a young kid he was just like that. He grew up with the same 'kid' brain you could say but I'm really proud of the way that he's carried himself, especially with the way the Broncos let him go.
"Now that he's at the Knights he's turned his career around and he's playing some good footy, it really shows the professional that he is.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him, looking forward to playing against him and hopefully we can get a result out of Sunday."
But there was a time a decade ago growing up in Sarina in North Queensland when Hoffman wasn't always so keen to see his kid cousin.
Gagai told Knights TV earlier this week that Hoffman "gave it to me when we were kids growing up" but Hoffman's recollection was of always trying to get away from him, experience that could hold him in good stead if the game goes down to the wire on Sunday.
"He was like my little shadow. Everywhere I went when I was young and he was little he would just be always following me," said Hoffman, with the ledger currently standing at a win apiece and a draw in the three games they have played against each other to date.
"I guess as a big cousin you try and get away from your little cousin and say stuff like, 'Leave me alone' but in saying that, growing up I've had some great times with him at the Broncos and some tough times as well.
"This will be the first time of me playing left-side centre and him playing right, the first time us playing against each other so it's going to be funny coming up against him.
"I'll be trying every niggling thing I can to get under his skin and get into his head o hopefully I can play a bit of time against him and I guess it will be just another family battle that we've been having since we were young."