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'Good to get it over them': Panthers win  against Knights special for Hosking

For as long as he can remember, Zac Hosking dreamed of playing an NRL game at McDonald Jones Stadium.

It was a more than reasonable goal for a Central Newcastle Butcher Boys junior, and highly regarded member of the Newcastle Knights’ Under 20s and NSW Cup teams.

Hosking just never anticipated it being for the opposition.

But that was how the 26-year-old second-rower will reflect on his first NRL appearance in his home town after helping Penrith pip the Knights 16-15 in an extra-time thriller on Saturday night.

Zac Hosking celebrates after Penrith's 16-15 golden point win in Newcastle
Zac Hosking celebrates after Penrith's 16-15 golden point win in Newcastle ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The late-blooming forward made 47 tackles and played all 81 minutes in just his fourth game for the Panthers, and eighth overall in the NRL after joining the back-to-back defending premiers from Brisbane.

Hosking, who still owns a house in Newcastle and spends his days off renovating it with girlfriend Emily, was cheered on by more than 40 family and friends.

Among them were his father, former Manly cult hero David “Mule” Hosking, and Mum, Belinda, on her birthday.

“Before I left here, I never actually played an NRL game at this stadium, only lower grade games, so I had a good turn-out of family and friends and it was unreal to get the win in front of them,” Hosking told reporters after the game.

“It was my Mum’s birthday today as well, so it was good to get the win for her as well.

“It was a weird one when we got here yesterday, driving through town as the opposition.

"It was weird because it’s so normal driving through the streets here in Newcastle … but I guess you could say I had a little bit more fire in the belly to have a win over this club.

“I never got an opportunity here so it was good to get it over them.”

Zac Hosking played for the Knights under 20s team in 2018
Zac Hosking played for the Knights under 20s team in 2018 ©NRL Photos

Hosking, who played against friends and former teammates including Mat Croker, Jack Johns, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Daniel Saifiti, had a point to prove to the Knights for not persevering with him.

“Yeah, in a way – I don’t want to make it too dramatic – but I guess so, in a way,” he said, though he would consider returning to the Knights if an opportunity arose down the track.

“I had to move to Brisbane to get my crack, and I’m pretty happy where I’ve ended up, so I suppose there was a little bit of that there as well.”

Hosking said he gave as good as he got during an often fiery game against his old clubmates but was happy to leave that on the field, and he planned to “hug it out” over a beer later on Saturday night.

“It was sort of a dream come true as well, for us to be able to share an NRL field together,” he said.

“I thought we might have done it in the same jersey on but we ended up doing it in opposite jerseys, so that’s footy, and we’ll take it.”

After making his NRL debut among four games for the Broncos last season, Hosking has now played four straight for the Panthers since his first appearance for the club against Parramatta on March 23.

Hosking grabs one in his new colours

“It was definitely my goal this year, to break into the 17 and to hold my spot once I do, and it probably came earlier than I thought it would have so I feel really happy that I’ve been able to keep playing once I played that first game against Parra,” he said.

“I’m loving my time here at the moment, and I couldn’t be happier with where I’ve landed.

“I definitely took a longer route than what a lot of players do. I had to bide my time to make my debut at 25 after two years of 20s and four or five years of reserve grade.

“It came to a point where I wasn’t really getting a decent contract here, so I sort of threw it in for two weeks, then Brisbane came calling.

Zac Hosking celebrates with family after his NRL debut for Brisbane in 2022
Zac Hosking celebrates with family after his NRL debut for Brisbane in 2022 ©Chloe Davis/NRL Photos

“I spoke to a lot of people that I respect the opinion of, and they said you don’t want to look back in 10 years and say you wish that you took that chance up in Brisbane, so I had one last crack and it’s turned out pretty good for me now.

“I’m absolutely loving it. I consider myself pretty lucky to be running off someone like Nathan Cleary.

"He’s the best player in our game at the moment and he’s probably making me look better than I am – I’ve said that a few times – but he opens up holes for me and I just push through them.

“The guys in the middle of the field as well, they’re probably the best in the game. Someone like Isaah Yeo, he’s a great leader and to be able to run off the back of what he does, it makes my job a lot easier for sure.”

The Iceman cometh

Yeo said Hosking quickly earned the respect of his new teammates with the right attitude on and off the field.

“When someone comes to a group, you want them to be a really good person to buy in, and the way he’s fitted into the culture, how hard he works, it’s no surprise that he’s performing well,” Yeo said.

“First of all, he’s a really good fella, but then out on the field, he does a lot of that scrappy work that you know he’s going to do, then obviously he runs those really good lines as well, so he’s been the ultimate teammate – he’s been really good.”

Though Hosking was blissfully unaware at the time, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary had been tracking his progress during his lower-grade years at the Knights.

Cleary and David Hosking were teammates at Manly in the early 1990s, playing one first-grade game together against Western Suburbs at Brookvale Oval on August 29, 1993.

Zac Hosking's father David played for South Sydney and Manly
Zac Hosking's father David played for South Sydney and Manly ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

“I just think it’s a great story and a really good lesson, for everyone I guess, just to keep going,” said Cleary, who signed him from the Broncos as one of several options to replace Viliame Kikau.

“He couldn’t quite make it here at the Knights but I think he won their Player of the Year at [NSW] Cup level two years in a row, so I always kind of followed him because I played with his old man.

“Then when I saw him at the Broncos last year, it was like, ‘yeah, I think he’s got something’.

“Obviously losing ‘Kiks’ last year, we were never going to be able to replace him, so we got a few guys and he’s just taken his opportunity when ‘Marto’ (Liam Martin) got hurt, and he just picks himself at the moment.

“He only played two or three games last year, so some of the games he’s played this year, like the Parramatta game, this game, even the St Helens [World Club Challenge] game – they’re huge games, where he’s played every minute – and he’s doing really well.

“I’m happy for him, because he deserves it.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.