Hoffman brushes concussion blues
NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman bristles at suggestions a couple of head knocks in recent weeks had any chance of putting his Origin ambitions in doubt, adding he's confident his form this year warranted selection after coach Laurie Daley opted to move on without a couple of back-row veterans.
Hoffman's last NRL game before the Origin team announcements – a golden-point win over Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday – ended after just three minutes when Eels hooker Nathan Peats landed awkwardly on top of Hoffman, forcing him off with concussion.
Three weeks earlier against the Titans, a tackle from now-suspended back-rower Greg Bird also forced Hoffman off with almost half the game remaining due to a head knock.
"No [I wasn't worried], I've done all the right protocols, I've been in consultation with the Warriors doctor and NSW doctor and they're quite comfortable with where I'm at, I'm quite comfortable with where I'm at," Hoffman told NRL.com at the Blues team launch at The Star on Tuesday.
"If there were any concerns I'd certainly voice them but the protocols that are in place have worked and I'm feeling good."
Blues coach Laurie Daley, already without the services of highly experienced Origin back-rowers in would-be skipper Paul Gallen (hip injury) and Greg Bird (suspension), overlooked both Parramatta's Anthony Watmough – a veteran of 14 Origins – and 17-game Blues veteran Luke Lewis.
While Watmough's form for Parramatta has been down this year, Lewis's omission was controversial given he has played some outstanding games for the Sharks of late, he featured in the Trans-Tasman Test for Australia just three weeks ago and he would have been the only real utility player on the bench.
But despite Daley proving form is just as important as incumbency, Hoffman – 2014's co-Brad Fittler medallist with Jarryd Hayne for the Blues' best player – said while he knew he wasn't guaranteed a spot on incumbency he felt his form warranted selection.
"I don't think anyone's ever completely guaranteed a spot, you still need to have that semblance of form and New South Wales has always had very strong candidates for the back row and it's no different this year, there are some great kids coming through," he said.
"But I was quite confident in my ability, I was confident with the form that I was putting up that I was going to get selected and I'm looking forward to taking on the next step from what we did last year."
Not counting his short stint against the Eels Hoffman's season so far has featured almost 130 metres per game for the Warriors, with three tries in nine matches as well as 17 tackle breaks, three line breaks and 21 tackles per game.
He is also one of the league's busier decoy runners, with 43 so far.
It was that running game which proved so vital to the Blues last year and helped Hoffman to a share of the in-house player-of-the-series gong.
His runs hammered the Maroons' right edge and gave stand-in halfback Daly Cherry-Evans a torrid time, eventually creating the opportunity for Blues halfback Trent Hodkinson to scythe through for the series-clinching try when Cherry-Evans moved out slightly to mark a Hoffman decoy run.
Hoffman was looking forward to resuming that role against his former Storm teammate Cooper Cronk.
"It's the worst kept secret in rugby league that you try and get your back-rower to run at the half to try and wear them out," Hoffman said.
"It's the role I've been doing for a long time, it's a role I'm going to have to work well again against Cooper because Cooper's a very strong defensive player and he's also a key in their attack so the amount of work you can make him do, hopefully the more you can take out of the Queensland attack."
Despite having four hard-working forwards on the bench, and in particular big-minute back-rowers Trent Merrin and Boyd Cordner, Hoffman said he was hoping to once again spend most of his time on the field after missing only a handful of minutes throughout the drought-breaking 2014 series win.
"I'm not sure [how Daley will manage the forwards], I think I only missed five minutes of the Origin series last year, I played all of the second and third game," he said.
"Look I just keep playing, it's a bit hard to help the team sitting on the bench so I try and avoid it as much as possible! I don't like getting taken off, I really struggle when the trainer comes out."
And as much as Hoffman was looking forward to getting back into the NSW system at Coffs Harbour that worked so well last year, he insisted the side can't afford to just do the same things and hope for the same result.
"That put a great system in for us last year and took away all the excuses for us to be quite honest.
"We took away all the excuses and we responded by preparing ourselves well but it's not good to try and replicate things, we've got to try and improve, we know Queensland's going to improve and we need to make sure we do as well.
"If you're not moving you're going backwards, we need to make sure we're looking to improve. It's a different situation but we're still trying to win the series. That's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to hold on to anything or retain anything, we're trying to win the series. That's the mentality we have to have because that's the mentality Queensland's going to have."