Kiwi #695 Lance Hohaia takes us back to his glory days in the black and white jersey and tells us about his new life as a coach in America.
When did you start playing rugby league as a child and who or what got you into the sport?
“I started playing when I was six years old for Huntly South. One of my best friends who was the best man at my wedding, he and I played together and his dad was the coach – I think I moved to Taniwharau the next year for under sevens. I grew up in the rugby league town of Huntly where my dad played and coached and my brother also played so it was inevitable that I’d end up playing footy. I’m really happy to have grown up in that town and it’s been a great journey since then”
Tell us about your rugby league career so far – coming from the humble beginnings of Taniwharau to becoming a coach in the United States:
“I played all through the age grades from under sixes right up until under 18s representing Waikato and each year from under tens to 18s we’d have National tournaments – those tournaments had club scouts there looking for the next big thing. I was approached by the Warriors when I was at the 16s tournament and I think back then I was offered $1000, a tracksuit and some free medical care. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved with that club – I grew up watching guys like Stacey Jones who were smaller in stature but were tough players – I turned 18 while I was still at high school and before I was finished high school I was offered a full time contract to play for the Warriors in 2001 (I was part time before that) where I played the following season. PJ Marsh broke his ankle in one of the first games of the season and I didn’t really intend on playing many games in 2002. Daniel Anderson was the head coach at the time and said to me, ”I think you’re ready, do you think you’re ready” and I of course said “Yes, I think I’m ready” so I think it was around round two or three of that season when I debuted for the Warriors against North Queensland in Townsville. From that point I played many years after that and I think personally 2008 and 2009 were my best seasons. I ended up staying till 2011 when I got offered an opportunity to play in the Super League in St Helen’s – I had been with the Warriors for 10 years and I thought a change was needed – my fiancé (now wife) agreed that it would be a cool little adventure to go on. We spent some time in the UK which was a bit of a turbulent time, it was hard for us to settle in as a family. Both of our young boys were born there and we didn’t have a lot of family support there and the Grand Final incident happened in 2015 which was quite a low point for us. We then moved to the United States after I retired which is where we live now and life’s going pretty good for us now.”
What challenges did you face as a young rugby league player transitioning into the professional world of rugby league?
“There were lots of challenges. I was 18-years-old earning six figures and dealing with media pressure, people wanting to spend time with you and looking back I was a kid who wasn’t equipped to deal with that stuff. It was tough, I feel like I was still able to play well over those years but it took time to adjust to that environment and it forced me to grow up quickly. I don’t have any regrets when I look back as it’s made me the person I am today. But, the pressure to perform, dealing with injuries, looking after yourself and being professional – they’re all things that take time and are learnt by making mistakes, I know I made a few. By the end of my career I was well on top of all of those things so I’m happy with my experiences and ups and downs that happened along the way.”
What’s your favourite league memory?
“As a player, my debut was very special, my last game for the Warriors was very special and winning the World Cup, alongside my debut for the Kiwis are the things are remember the most in terms of my accomplishments. The friends I made and the people I met – I have 100 more memories that I could rattle off. As a spectator, I remember being in Manchester when the Kiwis played Australia in the final of the World Cup, I was living there at the time and cheering them on in a foreign country, despite the outcome, was quite a cool moment. Coaching wise, I’ve been coaching a college team over here in the U.S. and they’ve gone from 35th to 5th in the nation over the past three years. I’m happy to say I had a little part to play in that and that’s probably one of my proudest moments so far.”
What was the best part of running out in the black and white jersey as a Kiwi?
“Knowing that I was representing my nation, my family, my kids and my wife – that is something that I’m pretty proud of. Listening to the national anthem at the start of the game is always something you see us players get quite emotional about. At that point you’re thinking of family members that have passed on, the effort, sacrifices and commitment it’s taken to get to that point – all those things just sit with you in that moment which is pretty cool.”
Video coming soon…