Meet Sam Hocking, the man behind Tigers’ rise from ‘complete battlers’ to Hong Kong Premiership contenders
The league championship is in the bag and only Valley stand between the one-time laughing stock and the double
He came to the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers as a player but the decision to hang up his boots and focus on coaching has proven a masterstroke for Sam Hocking.
The 33-year-old has taken Tigers from three wins last season to league champions this year and they can cap their resurgence with victory over Societe Generale Valley in the Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership grand championship decider on Saturday.
After a career that saw him step out for Plymouth Albion and Ealing in the English Championship before playing three years for the Tigers , Hocking says the decision to focus solely on coaching wasn’t actually that difficult.
“To be honest, the opportunity to coach was too good to turn down,” he said. “I got advised to cut the playing by [Hong Kong coach] Leigh Jones and it was good advice.
“Although I would still like to be playing it turned out to be a good decision and the right decision to remove myself from that situation.
“The role deserves my full attention rather than me having to worry about training and playing at the weekends.”
Hocking is hopeful there will be opportunities within the Hong Kong Rugby Union to further his coaching resume, saying “in terms of progressing and learning from the right people, it’s a really good place to be”.
The Tigers rise from “complete battlers” – a title afforded them by Fox Sports presenter Sean Maloney because of a 38-game losing streak – has been well documented and after years in the doldrums Hocking has noticed a distinct change this season.
“Compared to other years, I think the boys are a lot closer. There is a huge desire when they are playing together to play for each other and I think that counts for a lot,” he said.
“One of my main things coming in was to make Tigers more of a club, so rather than being a women’s team, a Premiership team and the teams below, throughout the season we have done things together as a club and involved everyone throughout everything we do.”
Player retention has also improved and the arrival of the likes of Alex Woodburn, Joe Ellyatt and Robbie Keith in the last two years has played a key part in the revival.
Valley are shooting for their sixth consecutive grand championship and have the edge of experience, but Hocking is more interested in what his side brings.
“We are going in pretty confident, to be honest the boys have deserved that with the way they’ve played,” he said.
“Valley have been there before, they’ve done it for the past five years and they are always a tough opposition.
“For us it is more about worrying about ourselves, Valley will do what they do and we will try and nullify that and try and dictate the game.”
For Valley coach Andrew Kelly, it’s about keeping his charges focussed on the job at hand: “Every time you play a final it’s a clean slate, past records don’t count for anything and it’s just who performs on the day.”