Lance Hohaia reflects seven years on from Ben Flower Grand Final punch

It is seven years to the day since St Helens’ Lance Hohaia was punched unconscious by Ben Flower, who became the first and to date only player to be shown the red card in a Super League Grand Final.

The incident on October 11, 2014 forced Hohaia, now 38, in to early retirement – albeit it wasn’t his last game.

He would make eight appearances for St Helens in 2015, something that perhaps highlights the advances made around concussion and head injury protocols in subsequent years.

Ahead of St Helens’ securing their record-breaking ninth Super League title on Saturday night, Hohaia shared his reflections on that night on his social media channels.

He said: “This time of year always brings back a lot of emotion for me. It was seven years ago today that I was punched unconscious during one of the biggest games of my sporting career.

“It made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Within six months, my career had ended prematurely.

“It certainly wasn’t how I planned to go out and it was very difficult to accept. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

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“In saying that, I had a wonderful career and I consider myself lucky to have played at that level for as long as I did.

“This is the first time I have talked about this topic publicly via my own personal platform, in my own words, without utilizing the media who, in most instances, have their own agenda.

“Opening up about this is a way for me heal from the emotional pain I went through post my retirement. Being vulnerable takes courage. I have two young boys and I encourage them to live authentically and to speak openly about their feelings. To me, that is a strength, and it took me a long time to realize that.

“I played my part in what happened on that fateful day and I take ownership for my actions. I don’t have any animosity towards anyone and I believe that everything happens for a reason, even the bad things.

“I do however, regret how things ended at St Helens. I’ve had some time to reflect and looking back I wish I handled the situation differently. I was emotional, I was hurting, I had suffered a significant head injury and I wasn’t thinking clearly for a period of time.

“Despite all that transpired, I really miss the UK and I will cherish the memories that were made during my time there. My two boys were born at Whiston Hospital in St Helens, so the town will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope to return someday to mend some bridges and visit those who supported me and cared for me.

“The club has a very proud history and I am grateful that I had an opportunity to play a small part in that.”

Post-retirement

Now based in America, Hohaia retired in April 2015 because of recurrent concussion symptoms.

In the months after his retirement, St Helens threatened legal action against the New Zealand World Cup winner following claims he had made in the Kiwi press.

Hohaia claimed that Saints hadn’t supported him with time off and that he was urged to take medication to help him take to the field.

Saints called his version of events between the Grand Final and his retirement as “utterly inaccurate and malicious”, though no legal case followed.

Earlier this year, Hohaia was announced as the head coach of new US club Austin Armadillos, who are set to line up in the inaugural season of the North American Rugby League for 2021.

Meanwhile, Flower – who was banned for six months for the punch, which came after he had been caught with a forearm by Hohaia in only the second minute of the match – has recently retired from rugby league following a spell at Leigh.

He will keep his boots on for rugby union side Pontypool in the Welsh Championship, and has also joined the coaching staff at League 1 club West Wales Raiders.

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