By STEVE MASCORD
JOSH Hoffman is the first choice fullback for World Cup holders New Zealand. But for most of this season, he could not hold down the number one shirt at his club, Brisbane.
The fall from grace of Parrramatta-bound Corey Norman has, in recent weeks, given the 25-year-old an opportunity in his favoured custodian position. But every day, he reads stories in the newspaper the Broncos recruiting Ben Barba and/or Anthony Milford to play – you guessed it – fullback.
Hoffman doesn’t get more upset than to describe the situation as “disappointing”. In the big win over the Eels at Suncorp Stadium that kicked off round 23, he gave every indication that Brisbane and its fans should be more disappointed than him at the prospect of him playing in any other position.
Hoffman posted one of the individual tries of the season in the 28th minute of a match in which the last-placed Eels did more than show cheek.
But it was the little things in the second half, tasks which are specific to fullback play, which helped him display his real class.
Catching a kick in his own in goal and surrounded by defenders in the 48th minute, he somehow negotiated a path to 10 metres inside the field of play.
Not long afterwards, as the last line of defence and faced by two attackers, Hoffman got a hand to the final pass, caught it on the half-volley, and sped upfield. He brought down a flying Jarryd Hayne with 14 minutes left, a try looking inevitable.
Hayne was forced off with a knee injury.
Yet Ben Barba has asked for a release from Canterbury on compassionate grounds and says his most likely destination is Brisbane.
Brisbane led 16-6 at halftime, Parramatta having done their best to stage a repeat of the upset in Sydney earlier this season.
After just seven minutes, Broncos lock Corey Parker was over the line but held up. Not long afterwards, Parramatta winger Vai Toutai stopped a certain try by bundling Broncos Jordan Tahu into touch a few metres out.
But a pinpoint pass from Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough found prop Josh McGuire unmarked in centrefield and the Samoan international almost fell over the tryline to open the scoring, Scott Prince goaling for 6-0.
With Jarryd Hayne a constant danger at five-eighth, however, Parramatta had attacking options on Friday night and his pass put strong-running Ryan Morgan over the centre held a couple of defenders at bay with a strong fend after 18 minutes.
Fullback Jake Malaney tied the scores with his conversion and the deadlock remained for seven minutes.
Ben Hannant’s canny offload in mid-field allowed Jack Reed to put rookie Corey Oates over in the south-eastern corner at this point, with Prince failing with a difficult conversion attempt.
At this point, Hoffman – who reads that his club is buying another custodian every second week – scored one of the season’s better individual tries.
Brushing off feeble defensive efforts by FuiFui MoiMoi and Mitchell Allgood in midfield, Hoffman accelerated into the clear. When confronted by opposite number Mallaney, Hoffman stepped inside him and then brushed off the cover of Ken Sio.
The try was all too easy and the the portents were poor for Parramatta as Prince converted.
But Parramatta again found a way into opposition territory, with Hayne’s pass sailing over the western touchline just before the break. Hayne was at least able to walk off after his collision with Hoffman, a good sign.
The Broncos spread the ball from touchline to touchline to touchline before Peter Wallace put England centre Reed over in the 51st minute.
BRISBANE 22 (J McGuire C Oates J Hoffman J Reed tries S Prince 3 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 12 (R Morgan r Maitua tries J Malaney J Paulo goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: A Devcich/G Badger. Crowd: 26,407.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD