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Storm fullback Nicho Hynes.

"Hey Siri, show me Nicho Hynes highlights."

"Showing Marcia Hines highlights."

Like most things with the Storm No.1, this process is worth the perseverance.

Not least because the six-minute clip of tries, assists, passes long and looping, flat and fast, were created, soundtracked to Kanye West and posted to YouTube by a 20-year-old Nicho Hynes.

Like most things with the Storm No.1, the bid to land an NRL deal didn't amount to much immediately.

From being tipped for big things at Manly, Hynes wound up 19 hours north in Mackay, broke and headed for a breakdown.

The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Hynes' rise, for both he and his closest kin, are well known and have been well told, by none more than Hynes himself.

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Along the way, a burgeoning footballing nous and playmaking pedigree has emerged as well.

Come Saturday night the Storm No.1 comes full circle, standing opposite one-time teenage teammate Tom Trbojevic, their paths and playing styles unable to diverge any further if they had tried.

Touchstones and touch footy

Of the NRL's top tier of fullbacks, only Clint Gutherson (44.2 touches per game) and Kalyn Ponga (43.7 touches per game), get their hands on the ball more than Hynes has when lining up at fullback this year.

Trbojevic, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell are all bigger, more explosive bodies, and feature less in the frontline than their smaller opponents.

For a kid in footy boots from the age of three or four, and wearing them to bed the night before a game in his formative years, too much was never enough for Hynes.

Living and breathing touch footy simply brought his natural halfback tendencies to the fore.

Particularly when his teenage teammates at NSW level included the likes of Jackson Hastings, Bevan French, Matt Dufty and Jarome Luai.

"I'd say a fair bit of my ball-playing comes through touch," Hynes says.

"The ball skills and your passing, there's not much better practice for it.

"You throw a lot of long balls in touch footy and you've got to think quick on the spot about doing it.

"You don't get a lot of time to work out your plan on the field either.

"The footwork and speed of the game, you can take it from touch footy and try to set the tempo the same way in league as a half and a fullback.

"It probably pulls you out of your shell a bit, you just have to take the line on and you can't die wondering, if you see something you just take it. I really enjoy that style of play and I think it shows this year."

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Halfway house

The NRL's six-again adaptations have allowed "flat and fast" football to come to the fore across the game, but nowhere more than at Melbourne.

Storm assistant Marc Brentnall has gradually tweaked their attack in concert with Billy Slater, while Craig Bellamy's son Aaron has honed Hynes' spatial and defensive awareness through their one-on-one video analysis.

"There's a lot of cues we're picking out, I don't want to give too much away but I'm looking for any sign of disconnect in the defensive line," Hynes said.

"I feel like I've got a good eye for any sort of confusion or lag between two defenders.

"[It] could be a body turning inside instead of out, or hesitation when [defenders] are talking.

"If someone's come up quickly on me it's catch fast, shift it fast. If they're holding back then it's put the foot down and really dictate the speed and tempo."

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Hardly by design, but hardly an accident either, Hynes fits a growing club at Melbourne.

"He's not blistering quick over the ground like some of your other fullbacks, he's not a [Ryan] Papenhuyzen or Billy Slater, so he's worked out his style which is really in the line," Storm recruitment manager Paul Bunn says.

"Getting the ball in his hands so much come from that halves background. It's funny because that's Jahrome Hughes' background as well, [Cameron] Munster has it and Scotty Drinkwater was originally with us too and he's obviously grown up as a half.

"It wasn't so much a Storm thing but more my own personal thought when you're replacing guys like Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, the different style emerged from these ex-halves playing fullback or ex-fullbacks playing in the halves."

Manly to Mackay to Melbourne

Hynes' 29 NRL games to date have been 25 years in the making.

A well-earned three-year deal with Cronulla – where his salary will more than triple – is locked and loaded for 2022.

Six years ago when Hynes made that six-minute highlights reel, his NRL future was anything but.

A 2015 under-20s preliminary final, where a match-winning field goal booted Manly onto the grand final day stage, hinted at a rapid rise.

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"I had a pre-season with the NRL squad at Manly and there were discussions around re-signing for a couple of years," Hynes says.

"But then our 20s team didn't go well and I tore ligaments in my wrist and my hand.

"It was a pretty nasty one and I was out for 12-16 weeks. The conversation changed, it was basically "see you later" and that contract never happened."

While Hynes' manager Andrew Purcell hunted unsuccessfully for another club, Bunn and the Storm's recruitment team assumed one of their Sydney rivals would simply pick up the Central Coast talent.

Former Cowboys assistant Steve Shepherd ended up handing Hynes his lifeline with the Mackay Cutters in 2017.

"We were watching his games and his data when he was at Manly," Bunn recalls.

"I thought he'd stopped playing and then all of a sudden a call came through from one of our scouts. 'You know that Nicho Hynes we were tracking? Well he's popped up here in Mackay'."

Storm centre Nicho Hynes.
Storm centre Nicho Hynes. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Eventually, Purcell got to talking with Sunshine Coast Falcons CEO and former Roosters and Maroons utility Chris Flannery.

At the same time, Bunn was in the ear of Melbourne's Queensland-based feeder club as well. A deal was eventually done.

Hynes was invited to the Storm's infamous pre-season bootcamp in late 2018.

"I wasn't leaving that first pre-season without a contract," he says.

"I knew it was one of my last chances to crack an NRL chance."

A train-and-trial deal eventuated. And eventually, the likes of Aaron Bellamy, Ryan Hoffman and Ryan Hinchcliffe travelled north to check in on Melbourne's feeder teams – Easts Tigers and Sunshine Coast when they clashed in April.

"Nicho just shot the lights out," Bunn says.

"He was signed within a matter of hours after that game. By all accounts, it all came together for him, try assists, tries.

"On top of what we knew we had with his character, it was a no-brainer."

Two years on, Bellamy now has "a pretty good headache to have" as he works out how to fit Hynes and Papenhuyzen into the same 17.

The former has 17 try assists (fifth in the NRL) and 26 line-break assists (second behind Cody Walker) since the latter's Magic Round concussion symptoms refused to abate.

What is your first footy memory?

"It's been a dusty, dirt road and quite windy," Bellamy says when asked about Hynes.

"Not just in his footy but in his life as well.

"You've got to be really proud of what he's done with his life and his footy. He's a really important part of our team. I really felt for him last year.

"He was in the 17 on grand final day [in 2020] but we didn't actually use him.

"To his credit that didn't dampen his enthusiasm to celebrate, I must say. That's a great trait of his as well.

"We're all super proud of what Nicho's done and I'm sure his family is as well. Fingers crossed that he stays healthy over the next five weeks and gets some sort of reward at the end of the year."

Whether Hynes is rewarded with another premiership or not at Melbourne, that highlights reel is due for an update.

 

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