SAINTS stand off Lance Hohaia believes partnering Luke Walsh in the halves will allow his natural game to flourish as he approaches his third season at the club.
The 29-times capped Kiwi World Cup winner was hailed as a calling card signing when he left New Zealand Warriors to begin a four-year deal at Langtree Park.
But after losing his starting spot at six at the beginning of last term and then flitting between utility roles, the 30-year-old found himself kicking his heels on the sidelines and at times was kept out of the team by loan players Stuart Howarth and Gareth O’Brien.
At times it looked like the quietly spoken New Zealander’s days at the club were numbered, but he earned credits from the way he applied himself, particularly after an impressive stint for the Exiles against England.
And after O’Brien’s return to Warrington, Hohaia was able to enjoy a good run at half back as Saints ended an often turbulent, injury-decimated season, with something of a late flourish.
Rugby league is about taking the rough with the smooth, which Hohaia accepts. He said: “Professional sport is a tough job and things don’t always go your way and at times it was challenging for both myself and my family.
“But I consider myself to be a fairly hard worker and the boys believed in my ability and what I could do.
“I came here for a challenge and I knew it was going to be tough at times. I am just glad I was able to come out the other end of it reasonably well and am looking forward to the season and reasonably optimistic how things can go.”
Saints are highly fancied by the bookmakers after strengthening their squad with big men Mose Masoe, Kyle Amor and Richard Beaumont replacing the departed Josh Perry and Tony Puletua and the significant addition of Walsh, a player whose form got him into the top ten of the prestigious Dally M player of the year award.
Hohaia is looking forward to contributing to the ANZAC combination in the halves believing it will boost his own game but more importantly that of the team.
“We have got a great squad and the club have made some good buys.
“Luke Walsh has been a great addition because we have needed a half back for 12 months or so. He has come on board and brings a good temperament – he is a good skilful player with NRL experience who will benefit the team.
“Having Luke there will suit me well. I play my best footy on the back of someone taking on that organisational role.
“In the past I have played with guys like Stacey Jones who dictate and run the team.
“I am free to do things on the back what they do. I am looking forward to playing with Walsh and, touch wood, I can good run without injures and he can have the same and build some consistency and that will help the team.”
Saints’ season was derailed pretty early last year with injuries to key men James Roby and Jonny Lomax, and among others, the loss of big prop Perry and Mark Flanagan for virtually the whole year and Willie Manu and Sia Soliola being out for a few weeks apiece. It saw an early Challenge Cup exit and some patchy displays in the league.
Through a combination of recruitment and those younger guys who stepped up last year being more experienced, Hohaia believes the depth of the squad is now pretty good.
“If we can keep the guys in key positions playing as often as possible that is the best scenario,” he said.
“From last year to this the size of the forward pack as increased a lot. It is hopefully going to benefit guys like myself, Robes, Jonny and Luke – the guys in the central positions that help exploit the weaknesses in other teams.
“I am looking forward to playing behind those boys.
“Mose has a big physical presence and that showed in the World Cup what he is capable of.
“His ability is not doubted at all and his aggression in his game is maybe something we have not had as much as we’d have liked recently, so it will be good to get him out on the field.”