NRL: Hoffman yearned to play for Kiwis

By Steve Deane

Josh Hoffman of the Broncos. Photo / Getty Images
Josh Hoffman of the Broncos. Photo / Getty Images

If league's eligibility war turns into a moral tit-for-tat, the Kiwis are likely to score an early victory heading into Friday's Anzac test against the Kangaroos at Eden Park.

Having been castigated over the poaching of Palmerston North-born prop James Tamou - a player who had been in the NZRL system for several years - the Australian Rugby League might be tempted to point its critics in the direction of Mackay-born Kiwis fullback Josh Hoffman. That might not be the wisest of strategies.

Hoffman makes a pretty convincing case when explaining his Kiwiness.

"It was emotional - it touched my heart," was how he described a visit with father Shane to the family's marae in 2010. "It made me want to play for the Kiwis."

While distinguishing a Kiwi from an Aussie has become an increasingly fraught task in the snatch-and-grab world of international league eligibility, Hoffman's case seems to stack up. His heart may have been finally captured on that trip to his ancestral land, however his brain had long been steered in that direction.

Growing up watching Kiwis tests with his family "running around the house doing the haka and that" he dreamed of wearing black rather than the green and gold of his birthcountry.

"As a young kid I always wanted to be Sean Hoppe. I used to love his hairstyle - and his speed, everything he did on the field. I always wanted to be like him."

Hoffman also has strong blood ties to Australia. His mother, Grace, who died in late 2009, was a Torres Strait Islander. Wendell Sailor is a cousin.

Hoffman will in fact be the second player with Torres Strait Island ancestry to play fullback for the Kiwis in recent times, with Brent Webb also having hailed from the tiny group of islands off the north Queensland coast.

While it is hard to imagine Tamou - who moved to Australia as a 13-year-old - dreaming of one day being Martin Bella or Steve Roach, Hoffman believed the decision over where their loyalties lay was ultimately down to the individual.

"If [Tamou] decides he wants to play Origin that's his decision," Hoffman said. "Full credit to him. Players should have the right to choose what they want to do. I've had that pressure as well and my decision has stood with the Kiwis.

"His decision is to play for New South Wales and once we go out on that paddock he is just going to be treated as another Aussie."

Turning down the prospect of playing Origin was hard for any player, Hoffman said.

"Growing up you see Wally Lewis and the greats playing Origin and it is something you really want to do.

"But my heart was the other way. I wanted to play for the Kiwis. It means a lot.

"A lot of my family will be proud."

Having travelled from Brisbane with Broncos teammates Alex Glenn and Gerard Beale to link with the 19-man squad yesterday, Hoffman certainly had no issues fitting in.

"It just feels like I am home.

"We have got a very good culture and to be a part of that brotherhood is something special as well."

- NZ Herald

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