Hoffman looks to secure Kiwis fullback spot

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 10:23 11/10/2012
Josh Hoffman
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SIXTH STRAIGHT: Josh Hoffman scores a try for the Broncos.

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By definition a fullback is consigned to playing what's in front of him, though rookie Kiwis custodian Josh Hoffman will also be looking over his shoulder for the next 12 months until New Zealand's World Cup squad is confirmed.

The 24-year-old might have a heavily strapped left knee as he manages posterior cruciate ligament damage though playing against the Kangaroos in Saturday night's trans-Tasman test at Townsville's Dairy Farmers Stadium could spare him anguish this time next year.

This one-off test and next year's Anzac clash in Canberra are two virtual trials for the Kiwis, although form and fitness during the 2013 NRL season will obviously heavily influence the selectors before they settle on the group responsible for defending the title won at Brisbane back in 2008.

Hoffman's test debut at Eden Park on April 20 was facilitated by Kevin Locke's corked thigh and with the Warriors No.1 now recuperating from a high ankle sprain, the Queensland-born part Maori doubles his cap collection with another match-up against Billy Slater.

While Slater is a benchmark and a rival he watches closely, Hoffman is also aware Locke is capable of thwarting his ambitions of performing on the code's greatest international stage in Europe.

Promising Sydney Roosters outside back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the heir apparent to Anthony Minichiello at Bondi Junction, might also be a contender at the end of next season and has a chance to prove himself before the Kiwis selectors when representing the Junior Kiwis in the test match curtain raiser.

Hoffman has the advantage of playing under Stephen Kearney - the Broncos new assistant coach - from next year to stay in the national coach's thoughts but his first priority is to stake a claim against the Kiwis greatest rivals before enjoying a brief off-season.

"I'll be trying to mark my name down on Saturday," Hoffman said, matter-of-factly.

"With the World Cup coming there's a lot of competition for that jumper. Kevvy will be coming back from injury, we'll be fighting each other for it."

Hoffman's initial challenge is continuing to build a rapport with a backline that bears little resemblance to the unit that ran on to Eden Park.

He won't have experienced wings Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei for support although the back three does feature the ultra-reliable Sam Perrett and Gerard Beale, the four test rookie due to relocate from Brisbane to St George Illawarra.

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"It's definitely good to have him there," Hoffman said.
"I've played with him all season and the talk he has helps out a lot."

While Hoffman has developed an understanding Beale, on attack it was still difficult to gauge what captain and playmaker Benji Marshall was likely to do next.

"Benji's always unpredictable, he's always doing something tricky, you've just got to be there at the right time," he said.

Marshall's nuances may be impossible to decipher but Hoffman has been doing homework on the Kangaroos kicking game to a degree, realising he will be targeted.

"Throughout the season I've been trying to study up on Coop's (Cooper Cronk) kicking game and also Smithy's (Cameron Smith). Like Benji they're unpredictable, they pull out those tricky kicks that are too hard to read."

The Kiwis arrived from Cairns yesterday and have a training free day before tomorrow's low-key captain's run.

Warriors captain and starting lock Simon Mannering remains the only concern was he seeks to shed a stomach bug.

Mannering missed the final practice in Cairns and was excused from a reception last night as he continues to rest.

- Fairfax Media

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