Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson is playing his way towards a rep jersey, it's just not clear which one. Credit: Jason Oxenham. Copyright: NRL Photos
Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson is so hot right now that the only flaw James Graham can find is which Premier League team Hodkinson's old man barracks for.
"He's a West Ham fan so I can only guess he's from London," Graham deduces. "That's the only one thing that's bad about him."
But not even that far-reaching fact could dissuade Graham from attempting to coerce England coach Steve McNamara into selecting Hodkinson for their World Cup squad last year. In fact, the English prop admitted as much when discussing his halfback's inevitable rise to representative honours.
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"Steve obviously gets quite a few reminders that people can qualify for England. He did ask me about Trent and I said this guy genuinely wants to play. He's not just someone looking to play in the World Cup," Graham said.
"But for whatever reason Steve didn't go that way. If Trent can keep up his form and he's still got that passion and desire to play for England, maybe one day it might come true."
That one day could be in November, when England take part in the Four Nations against Australia, New Zealand, and either Fiji or Samoa.
Or it could not, depending on whether NSW selectors find enough space to fit arguably the hottest player in the game right now.
Even with Hodkinson's late-game heroics reaching Michael Jordan-esque levels, Graham is realistic enough to admit that the Bulldogs' match-winning maestro is on the end of a lengthy list of Origin suitors.
"The representative coaches have got such a difficult job in picking a team, there's so much talent out there," he said.
"People say you should stick with the incumbent, or [that] this player's in form now. I don't envy the job of Laurie Daley in picking that NSW team.
"How do you choose between a [Jarryd] Hayne and a [Josh] Dugan? Or a Hodkinson or a [Mitchell] Pearce. There's [also Luke] Brooks at Wests. Unfortunately for Trent there are so many good players kicking around."
Although according to fellow Westfield Sports graduate Tony Williams, that was never a problem back in high school.
"We had a lot of good players, guys like Jarryd Hayne. But he was our halfback. He made all the Schoolboys teams. We always knew he was going to be a good player growing up," Williams said.
"He debuted at Manly and the signs were already there. He played a couple of games and made City [Origin]. He was a bit unlucky with shoulder injuries, but he was always going to get there. He's up there in Dally M points now. If he keeps going, he'll make the rep teams.
"Personally, he's one of the best defensive halfbacks in the game. He's up there with forwards in regards to his tackling. He's a tough player, has a good kicking game... I reckon he's got the whole package."
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It wasn't long ago that Hodkinson didn't have a lot of anything, watching helplessly on the sidelines as he battled shoulder and knee injuries that forced him to contemplate early retirement. Graham, who has taken a liking to his 25-year-old teammate because of his heritage, remembers it clearly – because he didn't know what to say.
"It's really hard to find the right words because he's hearing the same thing off everyone. Just messages of encouragement, really," he said.
"You try and tell him that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's hard to be honest because you don't necessarily know if there is.
"I mean, I've seen a few blokes go through it and they don't come out the other end. You just have to support them and just be someone to talk to in their time of need. You could definitely see he was struggling.
"He's such a credit to himself and his family for coming out the other end. I can't harp on enough about how he keeps trying to continually trying to improve. He's not resting on his laurels. He wants to improve, go to another level, work on his defence. His kicking has been great for us, but he's still down at ANZ every week kicking goals, and practicing."
The NSW City and Country teams will be named at the end of this weekend, and it will be four years to the day since Hodkinson was named for his first ever representative jumper, selected for City after a handful of NRL appearances.
He may make it. And he may not. But if he doesn't, he's every chance of getting another phone call at the end of the year.
"His dad's English, I've met him. He has actually spoke quite passionately about seeing Trent play and I know it's been in the back of Trent's mind," Graham says.
"Who knows, I'd love to see him lining up next to me in an English shirt. Maybe one day in the future. Hopefully that'd be happen."