As Warrior Nation gathered at Mt Smart Stadium, we cast our eyes towards the giant replay screen at the northern end of the ground. We arrived with high expectations, as we always do for Round 1, desperately hoping the cinema’s first showing would be a new release highlighted by young, fresh faces starring in a win — something that hadn’t been seen since 2009. Instead, we witnessed a vintage performance from a treasured relic of the previous generation.
Those of you who like to delve into the film archives may remember a masterful performance from Sunday’s lead actor back in May 2015, but our hero has changed a great deal since then. Back when he won our hearts and minds as Best Supporting Actor in The Jaws of Life, Ryan Hoffman was a highly touted summer signing, a man characterised as a man of honour, a leader by example who would think nothing of putting his body on the line for the cause. He embodied everything that was good in the world.
Fast forward to now and the casting is very different. In I Heart Hoffman: Part 2, we find our hero a few years older, fresh off a demotion and facing the prospect of homelessness in 2018. After two years of losses, he is portrayed as the former champion about to be replaced by a younger model.
It’s very rare that a sequel proves to be better than the original, and when we evaluate Hoffman’s performances in five, ten years’ time, history will likely show that the first film was more exciting, more thrilling and had more views at the box office. But sometimes a single actor can transform an entire film by the quality of their performance. They compel you to ignore the disjointed execution of their supporting cast, to forget about a largely forgettable 80 minutes that was saved by a couple of memorable scenes and a happy ending. It is these types of performances that may be forgotten quickly by the majority, but which should live long in the memory of those who value actors who display a passionate dedication to their craft.
With his side down 22–20 to the lowly ranked Knights, only minutes remaining and his partners in crime sitting battered and bruised on the bench, Ryan Hoffman delivered the climax of perhaps his most accomplished display in a Warriors’ jumper. It wasn’t a flawless performance — the best ones rarely are — but he gave us try-saving tackles, a match-winning moment, and even delivered a life lesson for Ken Maumalo just before the credits rolled. If this season concludes in the way we all hope it does, I suspect I Heart Hoffman: Part 2 to be a screening I remember for many years to come.
SET OF SIX
1) While we’re talking about Ryan Hoffman, perhaps the best thing he did on Sunday evening was give an absolute mouthful to Ken Maumalo at the end of the scuffle two minutes from time. After a Knights error gave the Warriors the opportunity to close out the game and hold on to a crucial victory — what would become their first Round 1 win since 2009 — Maumalo rushed in from his wing to taunt the Knights player with a pat on the head. What followed was a push and shove that could easily have resulted in a penalty to the Knights, and who knows what could have happened from there. With such a young side, the Warriors need to grow up quickly if they want to be a force in 2017.
2) Let’s give some credit to Newcastle. It wasn’t the most impressive display from the Warriors — a 15-minute burst before half-time and then a comeback in the final 10 minutes — but the commitment shown by the Knights, a team picked by most pundits to get the wooden spoon, has to be admired. They started strong and never gave in, despite trailing by 12 points at the half. If they continue to turn up week after week with that level of effort, they won’t be easy-beats for anyone in 2017.
3) Kieran who? Maybe that’s taking things a bit too far, but Warrior Nation should be suitably encouraged by the strong showing from Ata Hingano, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He read the play well, often rushing up to shut down or disrupt a Newcastle attack. And with news suggesting Kieran Foran’s shoulder injury may keep him out for up to eight weeks, Hingano could get plenty more opportunities to build a realistic case for that #6 jersey.
4) Captain Roger, leading from the back. It feels strange to picture Roger Tuivasa-Sheck barking out orders in the changing room, or in the huddle behind the goalposts. But maybe that’s not his role as the leader of this club. Against the Knights he ran for 251 metres, 100 more than anyone wearing Warriors’ colours. Every time it felt like we desperately needed a strong carry, there was Roger with his hand up. A true leader stands up in the tough situations and inspires others to follow, and that’s exactly what we witnessed on Sunday.
5) Jacob Lillyman: impact player. With the inexperience in the side, I’d be much happier seeing Jacob Lillyman start and, more importantly, finish the games, but it’s clear his introduction made a huge impact. From his first carry, the men from Mt Smart began to go forward, and it is no coincidence they piled on 20 points in quick time after his arrival. Charlie Gubb gives every ounce of his being for every second he is on the paddock, and Albert Vete and Sam Lisone have a stack of potential, but Lillyman remains the leader of that prop rotation.
6) A win, but at what cost? A win was expected, but its importance shouldn’t be underestimated. Imagine the headlines after a Round 1 loss to a side that won only one match in 2016: Another year down the toilet before it’s even started, more questions about the players, the coach. Those two points calm the critics, for now at least, and allow Warrior Nation another week free of distractions to build on the positives of their first competitive hit-out. But injuries are the dark clouds that threaten to rain this week, particularly those to Issac Luke and Simon Mannering. In the same way the Warriors went on a run once Lillyman stepped onto the field, they completely lost their way with Mannering and Luke on the bench. If one or both men are ruled out, beating the Storm becomes a great deal trickier than it already would be otherwise. Get well soon, guys.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS