Nicho Hynes has reached the top but is still climbing

“I’m still in shock, to be honest. I never thought I’d even be in contention for this medal in my career,” a weary Nicho Hynes said while appearing the morning after the night before on SEN’s The Captain’s Run.

“I’ve probably done more interviews in the last 24 hours than I’ve done in my whole life!”

After departing from the Melbourne Storm off the back of making stellar cameos seem like the norm, there remained plenty of doubts around Hynes’ ability to slot into the halfback role full-time in the Shire.

MORE: Nicho Hynes claims the prestigious Dally M Medal after amassing a record vote tally

It was a new position incoming Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon had earmarked for him after being convinced of his attacking capabilities.

“I knew moving to the Sharks, I would have to work extremely hard,” Hynes said.

“I just wanted to prove a point and be a solid player in the halfback position. I wanted to repay the faith that the club had shown me.

“I just didn’t think a Dally M Medal was ever in contention for me. I never thought of myself in that calibre. I never thought I could reach that height.”

Hynes not only reached the level he never imagined was possible, he surpassed it on his way to hoovering up more Dally M votes than any player had done before him. It was the type of landslide victory which will bring him solely to the top of opposition tip sheets around the country.

Each week when he laces up his boots for the Sharks in 2023, the opposing coach in the shed nearby will be busy tapping his finger onto the whiteboard with the name ‘Nicho Hynes’ in bold and underlined just for good measure. If you stop him, you stop Cronulla.

“I’m not worried about the pressure. I think the pressure is a privilege,” the Dally M Medal winner maintained.

“I know that teams will be more aware of me…I’ve got to come up with some new plans and a few more tricks to play a different sort of game when I need to. I’m aware that they’ll be coming for me a bit more.”

MORE: Nicho Hynes’ response to Dally M win cements him as the NRL’s new poster boy

A halfback can never enjoy their handiwork for too long- there is always another deft grubber that needs to be rolled into the in-goal somewhere or a defensive line that needs to be broken. 

Yet, for a self-professed ‘stress head’ this doesn’t eat away at Hynes the way it may have done in the past.

“I’ve always been an over-thinker and worried about all that sort of stuff,” he admitted.

“I’ve always been that sort of guy who is going to bed at night and thinking about what’s going on next.

“I watched heaps of stuff on Dan Carter and the All Blacks and how they lost the World Cup and wanted to change something.

“They did so many hours in the gym and so many hours on the field, but they had never done anything with their mind. So, that intrigued me.

“I bumped into one of my old mates – Jarred Brown – who was into that sort of stuff and wanted to further his career in the mindset space by working with NRL clubs. So, I thought, let’s give it a go.”

The duo’s partnership worked from the beginning, with Hynes learning to banish whatever negative thoughts were rattling around in his brain in order to focus on the task at hand.

“We do a lot of breathing and visualisation,” Hynes explained.

“A lot about controlling my mind- thinking about what I can control and not worrying about all the outside noise.

“It was a lot to do with off-field as well. He wanted to make sure when I was going into a game, there was no weight on my shoulders other than what was going on in that rugby league game.

“I was just going around like a 10-year-old kid trying to win a game of footy.”

It was in Origin camp where Hynes received a lesson in what it takes to be the complete halfback. Drafted in as 18th man for the first two games of the series, the No.7 got to watch arguably the best halfback in the game – Nathan Cleary – go about his business.

“Seeing Nathan in Origin camp, I sat back and watched how much time he put into it,” Hynes said about Cleary’s laser focus on his kicking game.

MORE: Why is Nathan Cleary so good and how can the Parramatta Eels stop him in the grand final? 

It was a skill that Hynes had been neglecting up until that point of the season, preferring to allow his running game to dictate his involvements on the field.

He was always looking for opportunities to put teammates through gaps, manipulating the space with each swerve of the hips and dummy as he edged into the defensive line.

“There are always things you can work on,” Hynes declared.

“For me, it’s about getting the all-round halfback performance. What I mean by that is, at the end of the year I was trying to set up tries and create space for my outside men a hell of a lot.

“I wasn’t too worried about my kicking game and I realised halfway through the year how important a kicking game is.”

After witnessing the meticulous work Cleary was putting into his kicking game, Hynes went back to the Shire and tried to adopt the same approach. However, it caused an imbalance with his running game suddenly falling off a cliff.  

“I was more focused on nailing my kicking game and sort of lost my running game,” he said.

“Then, at the back end of the year I was worried about my running game…throughout those parts of the year I focused on different attributes.”

Hynes is now driven to become the ultimate halfback, after being unable to help steer the Sharks through a successful finals campaign in 2022. 

“I want it all mixed into one and then have that consistent performance… all in the one game every single week,” Hynes said.

It’s a scary proposition for the rest of the competition. After all, while Hynes was still finding his feet he came within touching distance of the very summit of the game.  

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