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NSW Waratahs forward Stephen Hoiles playing through tenacity

Date

Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Andrew Webster

Ready to face the Brumbies: NSW forward Stephen Hoiles.

Ready to face the Brumbies: NSW forward Stephen Hoiles. Photo: Getty Images

Not many said it to Stephen Hoiles, but he knew plenty thought it.

One day, at a coaching clinic at Newington during his three-year absence from playing because of a mysterious, mind-numbingly annoying injury, someone said it.

''What are you going to do now that you're retired?'' a former player asked.

Overcoming adversity: Stephen Hoiles packs down at training.

Overcoming adversity: Stephen Hoiles packs down at training. Photo: Getty Images

''I'm not retired,'' Hoiles said.

''You're one of those blokes, are you?'' the player laughed. ''Still hanging on.''

Hoiles did not reply, but noted it nonetheless.

Try time: Stephen Hoiles scores against the Hurricanes in May.

Try time: Stephen Hoiles scores against the Hurricanes in May. Photo: Anthony Johnson

''I thought, 'I'll add him to the list. I'll show him,' '' he recalls. ''He said what most people were thinking. I never had one friend say, 'What are you doing?' I know a lot thought it. And I can understand that. I would think the same if I had mates with two young kids at the end of their career.''

There are injury comeback stories and then there is the story of the 32-year-old from Sydney's east, who probably should have walked away from an excruciating Achilles tendon injury and found a career post-football but then took the road less travelled.

He was not prepared to watch his career end with him cleaning out his locker at the Brumbies one Saturday morning in Canberra, and driving back to Sydney. No way.

Instead, he rented out the family's Coogee home, moved in with the in-laws, funded his own surgery and rehab and fought his way back.

Now he finds himself starting for the Waratahs against the Brumbies on Saturday night, before a possible record crowd at Allianz Stadium, with the NSW side never better placed to win a Super Rugby title.

''I've had the most enjoyable season of my career,'' Hoiles says. ''It feels like a club team. It's got that feel about it. And maybe it's because my mentality is different. I am just playing.''

Just playing. In this era of professionalism, when it is about the next contract, the next endorsement, the next code switch, it is a refreshing thing to hear.

If you Google Hoiles' name, one of the first things that pops up in the search engine is ''Stephen Hoiles retire''.

''I quite often said I hadn't retired,'' he says.

The fact is he had been away from the game for three years. He had slipped off the edge of the radar, as broken players often do.

The nightmare started in 2010 when he was labouring through matches for the Brumbies with a stiff foot.

The Brumbies advised an operation that would sideline him for three months. When he came back, he had a new, sharp pain in his heel. He played a handful of minutes in 2011 and that was it.

He was sent to the Australian Institute of Sport for treatment. No good. They tried putting him on anti-depressants because it helps with neural pain.

''I was sitting in Canberra for six weeks like a zombie,'' Hoiles says. ''I tried everything. I said, 'That's not working. I'm just a junkie with a sore foot now.' ''

Then Brumbies coach Jake White, who he never really got on with, showed him the door.

''That was really tough,'' he says. ''I had been there for five years, I'd been captain, and I'd watched the shitfight unfold; coaches getting sacked and players moved on … That's why I kept playing. My last memory of footy was that year-and-a-half debacle. In a week, I was out. I didn't get to speak to the team. I came in one Saturday morning, cleaned out my locker and drove home to Sydney. It was an empty feeling.''

Hoiles returned home to Sydney and trained with the Tahs during the pre-season. The red bucket he used to ice his heel every day became a fixture at Moore Park.

''I'd put it in the ice bucket every day,'' he says. ''From the day from the time my son was born until he was two.''

One day he jogged on the sand with his kids at the beach. He could not walk the next day. He could not surf. He had to wear sandshoes to the beach. ''I looked like a Swedish tourist.''

It was a Swedish surgeon who rescued him.

Hakan Alfredson is renowned as the best tendon specialist on the planet. He takes his craft seriously: as a young doctor he wanted to snap his own tendon and then find the best way to fix it.

Hoiles and his father Alan caught 11 flights in 11 days, sleeping on the floors of airports, to have surgery in Sweden.

''It wasn't until I got to Sweden that they found a bone fragment that was lodged in my tendon,'' he says. ''That was the new pain. It wasn't tendonitis. It was from the first surgery. I always find it interesting when people say they don't have any regrets. I regret that first operation. It took three years of my footy career away.''

His first game back was for his beloved Randwick, in second grade, buzzing with nerves at Coogee Oval.

The next week he played in the first grade semi, tore his hammy in the second minute but fought on, knowing that he had to show the Tahs that he could still play.

He fronted for Waratahs pre-season last October prepared to play for nothing. Coach Michael Cheika put him on a supplementary contract.

So Hoiles is effectively playing for match payments. He can expect to make no more than $50,000 this season, although a new deal beckons.

''It's disappointing what's happened financially,'' he says. ''But I don't expect people to feel sorry for me. I've had a dream run. I've sold my unit in Canberra, moved in with the in-laws, my wife went back to work, and we didn't have a third kid."

But there have been upsides.

''In a weird way, it's made my wife and I a lot closer. When I came back, I realised how much your career means to your family. And a lot of those people wondered if I was doing the right thing. But they respected what I was doing, because they knew what I was like.''

What is Stephen Hoiles like? A footballer who is just playing, for all the right reasons.

Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13vs HUR 17 Report Stats
HIG 20vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29vs LIO 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19vs STO 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29vs SHA 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED 0vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10vs SHA 27 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28vs BRU 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 37vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23vs BLU 11 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA 15vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31vs CRU 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF 23vs BLU 16 Report Stats
BRU 20vs CHT 3 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA 10vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16vs BRU 14 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 20vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18vs STO 32 Report Stats
FOR 15vs CHT 24 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 23vs SHA 21 Report Stats
BUL 43vs RED 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9vs CHF 26 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR 24vs WAR 29 Report Stats
HIG 30vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6vs STO 13 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 10vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17vs RED 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 35vs FOR 27 Report Stats
BRU 31vs HIG 18 Report Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 29vs BLU 15 Report Stats
WAR 18vs REB 16 Report Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 34vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15vs BUL 13 Report Stats
RED 19vs HUR 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 41vs FOR 24 Report Stats
HUR 29vs CRU 23 Report Stats
REB 16vs CHF 15 Report Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25vs STO 17 Report Stats
BUL 35vs LIO 33 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 58vs RED 17 Report Stats
REB 42vs BLU 22 Report Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 32vs SHA 24 Report Stats
FOR 18vs WAR 11 Report Stats
LIO 28vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 25vs BRU 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 23vs BUL 18 Report Stats
RED 46vs REB 29 Report Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 22vs CHF 18 Report Stats
WAR 33vs SHA 18 Report Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 20vs BRU 30 Report Stats
CHT 24vs HIG 45 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF 34vs BUL 20 Report Stats
RED 14vs SHA 21 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 5vs HUR 29 Report Stats
WAR 32vs CRU 22 Report Stats
FOR 3vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 17vs LIO 40 Report Stats
STO 31vs REB 15 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 35vs HUR 18 Report Stats
BRU 22vs BUL 16 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA 25vs REB 21 Report Stats
HIG 36vs CHF 9 Report Stats
FOR 10vs RED 32 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 42vs CHT 12 Report Stats
LIO 27vs WAR 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 56vs HIG 20 Report Stats
FOR 20vs BRU 33 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB 21vs BUL 20 Report Stats
BLU 11vs CRU 34 Report Stats
RED 3vs CHF 24 Report Stats
CHT 33vs WAR 58 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19vs LIO 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU 7vs HIG 44 Report Stats
REB 11vs FOR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU 24vs CRU 37 Report Stats
CHF 13vs HUR 21 Report Stats
WAR 31vs RED 5 Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL 29vs CHT 42 Report Stats
SHA 34vs STO 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Qualifying Finals
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
HIG 24vs CHF 14 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19vs BRU 39 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Semi Finals
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 29vs BRU 9 Stats
WAR 17vs HIG 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Grand Final
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
HUR 14vs HIG 21 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 16 14 2 0 170 66
Waratahs 16 11 5 0 96 52
Stormers 16 10 5 1 50 45
Highlanders 16 11 5 0 117 53
Brumbies 16 9 7 0 108 47
Lions 16 9 6 1 -22 42
Chiefs 16 10 6 0 73 48
Bulls 16 7 9 0 9 38
View all
 

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