The ex-Storm veteran has had a baptism of fire since joining Super League strugglers Huddersfield.
When you’ve spent seven years with Melbourne you can be forgiven for getting used to being comfortable, to winning more games than you lose. That happens when you have the ‘Big Three’ around you – Smith, Slater, Cronk – experienced coach Craig Bellamy on the bench and a host of other internationals around. Success comes both regularly and naturally.
From 2009 to 2015 for Ryan Hinchcliffe that meant the semi-finals every year and a host of trophies. Two grand final victories, a World Club Challenge win, NSW Country appearances, Hinchcliffe enjoyed the lot and became a key cog in the Storm machine.
But life in rugby league can be very different outside the Melbourne bubble and the 31-year old has found that out very quickly this year. Hinchcliffe swapped Victoria for West Yorkshire at the end of 2015 and has endured a torrid time in his first three months in Super League.
After finishing in top four year last year, Huddersfield are propping up the bottom of the competition ladder with just two wins from 12 games. The Giants have been crocked by injuries, beset by rumours of internal divisions and rocked by the departure of England international Brett Ferres to local rivals Leeds. Hinchcliffe admits it hasn’t been the easiest transition to life in the UK.
“It’s been hard, don’t get me wrong,” the hooker says.
“I knew coming here it was going to be different. When you’re losing footy games, footy clubs… it’s pretty tough going, especially when you’re new to a club.
“For me it’s been a bit of a baptism of fire over the start of this season but I think I’ve come out stronger at the end of it.
“I think I’ve learned some lessons about myself and I suppose what this group needs to motivate them and to be in the right frame of mind to play the right style of footy. So it’s been a bit of a learning curve for myself, but I’m enjoying it.”
With Giants utility Luke Robinson forced to retire early through a hip injury Hinchcliffe has been forced to play long minutes with little relief in the number 9 shirt. As expected, the workman-like forward has taken to the role with gusto and led from the front, just like he did in his NRL days.
Hinchcliffe leads Huddersfield with an average of 36 tackles per game and is seventh at the club with eight carries a match. But the Giants habe struggled to win close games and until round 11 against Warrington, their sole victory had come against lowly Hull KR.
Relief came in the heavy rain at home against the Wolves last week, Huddersfield showing real grit and determination to grind down the top team in Super League.
“We’ve had glimpses of desperation through this losing period that we had but just not enough of it,” Hinchcliffe says.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot throughout this six week period. Tonight we actually gave ourselves a chance to win the game and we haven’t really done that in the last six weeks.
“That’s what’s really pleasing for me and for our group to understand that’s the way you need to play footy to win footy games. I think it’s a real education for our group.”
Despite that breakthrough the Giants fell to Wigan away on Thursday in controversial fashion. But the Temora Dragons junior is not one to back down from a fight, and with another two years in England ahead of him after this one, Hinchcliffe’s determined to help Huddersfield save their season.
The respected clubman also knows well that one of his old teammates – Billy Slater – never fails to meet challenges head on. Slater is contemplating retirement after suffering another major shoulder injury that sees him out for the rest of the 2016 NRL season. The speculation is that Slater could hang up his boots prematurely but Hinchcliffe is convinced the Storm, Queensland and Australian legend’s illustrious career won’t end in that manner.
“I don’t think he’ll pack it in,” he says. “Not knowing Bill the way I know him, he’s a very resilient very mentally tough bloke.
“He won’t want to finish that way. I suppose it just depends on how his shoulder recovers and how the rehabilitation goes. If he can get back to 90% he’ll play and he’ll play well. As I said before he’s very resilient, he’s very mentally-tough and he’ll want to go out on his own terms.”