Wigan Warriors: Ryan Hoffman shares his Challenge Cup memories and discusses what it was like to play St Helens for a place in the final

Ryan Hoffman says the “elation” of reaching a Challenge Cup final is something he will never forget.

By Amos Wynn
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 5:00 pm

The retired second-rower featured in the last semi-final between Wigan and St Helens back in 2011, with the two sides going head-to-head again this weekend at Elland Road.

Hoffman states he cherishes the memories he made in the 18-12 victory at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, which booked the Warriors’ place in the final.

He said: “I remember we really went the hard route to get to the final. We played Barrow first and had a good win against them, then we had a really tough game against Bradford, then Warrington, which was an amazing game, and then it was Saints.

Sign up to our Wigan Warriors newsletter

Ryan Hoffman played in the 2011 Challenge Cup final

“I was unbelievably nervous because I wasn’t sure if I’d get the chance again. We were just really clinical, finishing some great long-ranged tries and defended really well.

“We knew we were going to win with about a minute or so to go. I looked over to Lockers (Sean O’Loughlin) and Tommy (Leuluai) and they had smiles on their faces because they knew what was about to come.

“It was something special, the elation we got afterwards was absolutely brilliant. The stewards came in after the game and said ‘boys you’ve got to go back out there and give the fans another clap because they still haven’t left yet.’

“This was almost an hour and half after full time, and they were still in the stands, singing.

Ryan Hoffman with Michael Maguire and Jeff Lima

“We went to the pub the next day to watch Leeds play Castleford. You can’t really remember too much about the game, but you remember the feeling and emotion. It’s what you cherish.”

Hoffman joined Wigan from Melbourne Storm in 2011, and spent one season with the club before heading back to the NRL.

He says, shortly after arriving in England, he quickly learnt about the rivalry between the Warriors and St Helens.

“Saints were a very good team that year,” he added.

“I didn’t know too much about the rivalry until my first day in Wigan. My wife and I went to Tesco, where this old lady looked at me and said ‘You’re that Aussie aren’t you?’

“She leaned in forward and went, ‘If you don’t beat St Helens I will drive you to the airport myself.’

“My wife was quite shocked, but sort of set the tone right away that it’s not what you win, it’s who you beat.

“We’d had the Good Friday Derby game a few weeks before, where Liam Farrell scored on the bell, so to get another close victory over them was huge.

“I think we played them five times that year, and each game had the same sort of emotion to it. End of the day, you’re still playing against 17 blokes and still need to get your job done.

“Emotions can be really good heading into a game as long as you harness it.

“Sean O’Loughlin is up there with Cameron Smith in the best leader I’ve been fortunate to be under. Managing that emotion and releasing it at the right time is exciting, because you can use it to your advantage and enjoy the moment for what it is.”

Read More

Read More
Liam Marshall says both Wigan Warriors and St Helens will be 'fired up' ahead of...

Hoffman says he still has strong memories of certain parts of the 2011 Challenge Cup final, in which Wigan beat Leeds Rhinos 28-18 at Wembley.

“It’s the funny things that you remember, like putting a suit on and a florist rocking up to put the red rose on our jackets,” he explained.

“That was something a bit special, because we weren’t just representing Wigan, we were representing Lancashire too.

“These little things add to the occasion. You get to the stadium for a little walkaround, and you understand not everyone gets to play at Wembley, only the big games or the great concerts are played there.

“I can’t remember the warm up for the life of me, but I do remember waiting in the tunnel, because it felt like an age, and then you walk out and get the emotion of the crowd.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in big games like Origins and Grand Finals, and I don’t mind the ceremonies before the games because it gives you a chance to look around to enjoy the atmosphere.

“We got off to a great lead that day. I remember clear as a bell watching Martin Offiah score that amazing try at Wembley when I was younger, and then I was on the field when Joel Tomkins did something similar.

“We were looking pretty good and then Leeds managed to come back, but of all people who managed to score a double that day, it was Jeff Lima, so it was all great.”

“I think Tommy (Leuluai) scored the last try and that’s when we sort of relaxed and thought ‘we’ve got this.’

“To walk up the steps and hold the trophy in the grandstand is what you dream of as a kid, I just couldn’t wait. To look along the line and see Lockers (Sean O’Loughlin) lifting the trophy was special.

“It was on par with anything else I have done in my rugby league career.

“The last Challenge Cup Wigan won before ours was up in Murrayfield, so wherever the stadium is, you get the chance to create history there. You want people to go back there and think about winning there.

“You don’t remember the seats, you remember the memories you create.”