Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent
Returning Brisbane Broncos centre Justin Hodges insists his achilles is as strong as it can be and that the big test on Friday night against the Eels will be whether he has recovered mentally from the injury that threatened to end his career.
Hodges has been named in his favoured right centre position with Dale Copley moving onto the wing and Lachlan Maranta pushed to a six-man bench that also includes Ben Hannant in his return from a hamstring injury.
Hodges was struck down with a second achilles injury in Round 22 last season and when initial reports suggested a 12-month recovery and missing the 2014 State of Origin Series, there were doubts whether the 31-year-old would return at all.
But with the lure of becoming the 26th recipient of the Dick 'Tosser' Turner Medal for playing 20 games for Queensland just two Origin matches away and the added responsibility of shared captaincy duties with Corey Parker at Brisbane, Hodges significantly reduced the recovery time required to return to the field.
"I've worked hard [on recovery] and this time it's healed a lot quicker," Hodges said. "There's still a little bit of soreness there but that comes with injury and it's just a matter of getting out there and playing now and getting the confidence [back] in my head.
"It can't get any stronger than what it is, so like I said it's just a matter of going out and getting that confidence to step [off it] and get tackled and twisted and all those things you do when you play footy.
"The biggest part of coming back is getting yourself right to play in your head."
Hodges has the luxury of returning to a stampeding Broncos line-up that sits second on the ladder, only behind the first placed Dragons on points differential.
The rumours of an early return for Hodges has been swirling around for a number of weeks now, with a return in late April considered a positive result for Hodges and the Broncos.
"I've got to obviously get through today's session and Thursday but the signs are looking good and I'll be right to go," Hodges said.
Hodges dismissed concerns that he is at risk of reinjuring himself on his return to the top grade and has his sights set on a return to the Origin arena with Game One of the series on May 28.
"If something was going to happen it would have happened by now," he said. "It would be nice to get back in the [Origin] side, but my first preference was always getting back here [to the Broncos] first and playing some great footy for the club and hopefully staying at the top of the table.
"Obviously I've got to keep playing each week and playing some great footy.
"If I play some great footy [an Origin jersey] will come like it has in the past few years."
Copley is the unfortunate one who has had to make way having impressed in the opening month as he deputised at right centre.
He retains his place in the starting side with a shift to the wing and harboured no ill feelings from being pushed wider out to accommodate Hodges.
"It's a massive inclusion for our side and a huge positive – you can't take any negatives about having a guy like him come back," Copley said.
"I don’t know what it means for me at the moment but I'm obviously excited that he's back on the field."