Josh Hoffman will bring an injection of experience to Brisbane Rugby League in 2023, after signing with reigning A grade premiers, West Brisbane Panthers.
The rugby league veteran – who played for the Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans and Parramatta Eels across 189 NRL appearances – is returning after a one-year hiatus from the game, refreshed and ready to lace up the boots once again.
Panthers coach Tye Ingebrigtsen has been chasing Hoffman’s services for the past 12 months, after hearing the New Zealand international had moved to the southeast following two years with the Townsville Blackhawks.
“I’ve just had 12 months off footy where I concentrated on work and being away from the game a bit,” Hoffman said.
“At times in my mind I was like, ‘I could still play (Hostplus) Cup’, and the idea started to come in about giving it another crack and maybe even getting a train and trial with the Broncos or Redcliffe Dolphins (NRL).
“But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I had a chat with my wife, and I know I’ve come to the right decision to play at this level.
“My kids are playing sport as well, so I can concentrate on that. I’ve given so much of my time to the NRL and playing professionally, it’s only fitting to give my time to the family and my kids now.
“It’s time to just enjoy footy… it’s about playing footy without that added pressure and having fun with some guys who just want to play a game and have a beer afterwards.”
Hoffman, a father-of-three with another one on the way, also recently played at the Mackay All Blacks Carnival and said after six games across the weekend, his body was sore but unscathed – a green light for the season ahead.
But the 34-year-old is not just returning for himself, but in the hope he can have a wider impact on the grassroots of the game.
Hoffman has watched a number of former NRL players give back to community rugby league in various ways – from coaching to volunteering to pulling on a jersey – and said he wants to do the same.
“I’ve most missed being around the team and the environment… that comradery that every footy player loves and wants to be around,” Hoffman said.
“I think a lot of past players still have to be around the game in some way, shape or form. Some players are coaching or running the water. Hodgey (Justin Hodges) just presented jerseys to the (Velocity All Stars) side.
“That’s really awesome seeing players of that calibre still involved. This year Sammy (Thaiday) played for the Samford Stags. Boys coming back and giving back to the community, it’s awesome.
“If I can do something like that, put boots on for the local team and put a smile on kids’ faces, that’s special in itself. It’s something they’ll always remember, seeing players from the elite game coming back and giving back to the community.”
Hoffman, who works with First Nations youth at the Clontarf Foundation, is also hoping to mentor some of the younger players at the club, particularly those with aspirations for the Hostplus Cup or NRL.
And Ingebrigtsen – who co-coached the Panthers to a historic undefeated season in 2022 alongside his dad, Craig – said it is that wealth of experience that saw him chase Hoffman for 12 months.
The pair have known each other since Hoffman was with Redcliffe during his Colts years.
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“Once I knew he was in the area, I tried to get him this year,” Ingebrigtsen said of his pursuit of Hoffman.
“He was a bit hesitant and wanted to make sure his body was right. He’s reached out to me now and said, ‘let’s make it happen'.
“For him, it’s not just about playing footy but going back to the grassroots level, being around a junior club and having a presence around the place.
“He’s got an opportunity to make some really good connections with the young kids.
“He’ll bring experience and leadership. Anyone who has played at that level, 150-plus NRL games, it’s a huge level of experience. I really want him to be a leader of the group, get around the younger players at our club.”