Ryan Hoffman: What it takes to get to the top in Rugby League
Ryan Hoffman is a rugby legend, who played at the highest level of rugby league for 16 years. “The Hoff” was a talisman for Melbourne Storm, played for the Australian national team, and also played for Wigan Warriors in the Super League. He returned to Melbourne Storm to finish his playing career, and now is Melbourne Storm’s Football Operations Coordinator.
He’s kindly taken the time to answer a few questions, on what his career has been like, and what advice he would give, to aspiring rugby players and to everyday athletes.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current role at Melbourne Storm?
Currently I’m the Football Operation Co-Ordinator of the Melbourne Storm. I work under Frank Ponissi, our Football Director.
You have a long-standing affinity to the club, you started your long and illustrious career at Storm, can you remember pulling on the purple jersey for the first time? What was that like, to turn pro with such a huge team?
I moved to Melbourne from Sydney straight out of High School, and made my debut in Round 6 of that season. It was Craig’s first year coaching, and the club certainly wasn’t the powerhouse it is now. For me it was just rewarding a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but what it did do was reinforce that I wasn’t going to be happy with just 1 NRL game, I wanted a long career...
Did you always want to be a professional? And if so why? What inspired you, and what did you want to achieve?
As a kid all I ever wanted to be was an NRL player. I had loved it ever since I can remember, and I never pictured myself doing anything else. It was my sole focus. I am a self-confessed rugby league nerd and I wanted to achieve everything in the NRL. Premierships, State of Origin, playing for Australia, everything, I wanted it all. In terms of inspiration that was enough for me. I didn’t need to be pushed or motived by anything else except wanting to do everything rugby league had to offer.
Your old man Jay is an NRL legend too, how did he inspire you and what was it like following in his footsteps?
Like any kid I looked up to my dad and wanted to follow in his footsteps. My earliest memories are going to training with my dad and kicking an old 2-litre bottle of Coke around on the field after the game. Rugby league was a part of my life from the beginning, and that just carried on. I was proud that I was a second generation NRL player, and very proud of my dad’s achievements and how he is remembered.
I’m sure playing for Australia and wearing the green and gold must’ve been a highlight of your career? Did it feel different when you played for Australia? Was your mindset different? For example, more nerves, or more focus? Do you think you perform differently?
Playing for Australia was a massive highlight. I’m very patriotic and take great pride in being Australian and to wear the green and gold, and sing the anthem, representing my country was a massive highlight. I wouldn’t say it was different, because when the whistle goes it just a game of footy.
Why do you think Australia has produced one of the best rugby league teams for so many years? Is it the training? Mentality? What could people learn from the Australian team?
I think in grassroots we have some really good coaching that puts us in good stead at an early age. In terms of the mentality of the Australian team, there is a pretty fair reputation that you have to live up to, and protecting that reputation is a responsibility that everyone takes to heart whenever they pull on that jersey.
What was it like to end your unbelievable career at the club where it all started?
To finish my career in the purple jersey for me was a fantastic way to end. I always pictured it that way. To retire in the same place where I began under the same coach and with some of my closest friends in Billy Slater and Cameron Smith [2 fellow Melbourne Storm legends] whom I first lived with and started our careers together was very special.
In 2018 you were in the Melbourne Storm ‘best player of the last 20 years’ line up, how does it feel to be recognised as one of the best forwards the club has ever seen?
That was a massive honour and something I’m very proud of. This club has been successful for a very long time, and to be recognised with some of the greatest that the game has ever produced – many of whom are my friends - is very special.
What do you think it takes physically and mentally to become a legendary player in the NRL?
For me to succeed it was all about love. I loved playing and loved training. It was all I ever wanted to do. It is way too hard of a game to go through all the trainings, pre-seasons, games, if you don’t love it. It’s a 24-hr business being a professional rugby league player. It doesn’t just stop when you leave training. You need to eat well, sleep well, recover... because guess what? You are doing it all again tomorrow.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? And If you could go back in time and give a young HOFF 1 piece of advice, what would it be?
What I would tell him is keep going, it’s all worth it. I sacrificed a lot as a kid and a teenager. Parties, nights out. I didn’t drink till I was in my 20’s, but I didn’t see it as a sacrifice, it was me doing everything I could to achieve my dream.
You have recently been spotted in some Castore sportwear items, what do you like about them?
For me it’s comfort. You don’t even know you are wearing it, which is a great thing, so you’re never distracted by something that’s uncomfortable. Not only that, its practical and it’s stylish.
What do you think of the technicality of the new Castore x Melbourne kit? Do any of the players mention the quality? Can you tell the difference?
The boys love it. It’s the quality of material they love. Much better than anything we have had before. The grey crew neck jumper the boys wear at training is the favourite.
Castore’s ethos is that Better Never Stop’s. What do you do to keep yourself improving and progressing and pushing yourself each day? And what’s your aim, what do you want to achieve in the next year, or going forward?
The thing about winning and being successful is that it’s addictive. Once you get to the top and you’re crowned the best, like the boys did last year, you just want to keep on doing it. You love that feeling, and just want it over and over. Melbourne Storm have never gone back to back in winning Grand Finals. That’s what we want to change.
Do you have any motto or mantra, for yourself in life?
My favourite one is “Would the boy you were be proud of the man you’ve become?” When you are a kid you have this idea of yourself in the future. What type of man, what type of Dad. It’s an ongoing thing to ensure you are making that boy you once were proud.
What advice would you give to everyday athletes or aspiring athletes, to motivate them to go further?
Don’t be afraid to fail. If you do fail it means you have set a goal that you need to work to, and when you do achieve it, it makes the feeling so much better.