RYAN Hinchcliffe insists there was no soothsaying involved in his decision to turn down a lucrative four-year contract with Parramatta, starting this season.
Nonetheless, as things stand, he’s looking like one of rugby league’s wisest men. The 28-year-old Melbourne utility forward is preparing for the NRL finals kick-off tonight when he plays against South Sydney, while the Eels are coachless and rudderless unless the decide to use that wooden spoon as one.
“I had the chance to go to Parra for four years and it was a lucrative offer,” Hinchcliffe tells Fairfax Media.
“It’s true that I did have a few people telling me I had to take the offer, that it was too good to turn down. You have people in your ear.
“But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I wanted to stay here. It’s a successful team, Bellyache (coach Craig Bellamy) has been good to me, I love the place.
“In my heart of hearts, I couldn’t seem myself leaving. I couldn’t see myself enjoying my football as much anywhere else. I’ve had five or six years here and I love it.
“When you’re a kid, you play football for fun, because you enjoy it. You should never forget that.”
The Temora-born Hinchcliffe, who joined Melbourne in 2009 from another currently-troubled NRL franchise, Canberra, was supposed to be back-up hooker. Instead he’s become one of the leading members of the supporting cast for the big three, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith.
At times, he’s seemed poised to join the likes of Ryan Hoffman as a genuine co-star, with Origin selection looming. For one reason or another, it hasn’t happened.
“This year I did my medial ligament before the City and Country teams were named and was out six weeks,” he shrugs. “I like playing for Country.”
Some players withdrew from the clash with comparatively minor injuries. “I know that was the case, especially this year,” he says, “but it certainly means a lot to me.”
A relaxed, talkative soul, Hinchcliffe is the subject of an urban myth that he started a fight in his first grade debut for the Raiders, so he would be noticed. “That’s a bit of spin,” he laughs.
“It was Luke Priddis. I think they were trying sort out the new bloke, test him out. The penalty went to us. I wouldn’t go out and do that.”
Likewise, no-one will be talking up the battle between any of South Sydney’s star-studded pack and Ryan Hinchcliffe in the qualifying final on Friday, even if the Stormer’s stats suggest the bunnies have plenty to be wary of.
“The Burgessed are all big boys, they get plenty of media attention which they deserve, if only for the pure size of them,” he says.
“They’re big boppers, hard to handle. When you’re a middle defender like me, you only weight 88kg and it’s your job to bring them down, it’s a bit of a worry.”
And what of Burgess’ clashes with Melbourne a month ago, when he was suspended for executing a squirrel grip on Will Chambers?
According to Hinchcliffe, suggestions of bad blood over the incident are just like stories of the feisty start to his own first grade career – exaggerated.
“We all had a bit of a laugh about it,” he says. “There wasn’t much said. I don’t think there was that much in it. Like a lot of blokes, we did think it was a little bit funny.”
Most men would not regard having their testicles squeezed as a terribly amusing experience. But given a choice between that and joining Parramatta for four years, well…..
Filed for: THE AGE