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On-fire Hodkinson thought career was over

It’s as if it was scripted by a 10-year-old. 

“Hodkinson lining up to the left. 30 out, hits it... it’s good. Trent Hodkinson, he’s broken the deadlock with just two minutes left.”

The ball sails through the non-existent uprights, the imagined crowd goes into raptures and the 10-year-old trots off to collect the Steeden out back of the family home in Campbelltown.

“Two minutes left, last tackle, ball comes back to Hodkinson, scores tied up. This is it… He’s kicked it, Trent Hodkinson does it again.”

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It’s a scene from that could be lifted from any number of suburban backyards on Australia’s eastern seaboard. 

But for the last two weeks the Cabramatta junior has been performing his last-minute heroics on the NRL stage. First sinking the Warriors across the ditch, then sealing the Bulldogs' thrilling 15-14 win over the Rabbitohs in front of 43,255 fans in a Good Friday classic.

“Secretly he’s been practicing at home,” says teammate Greg Eastwood, when asked if his halfback has a penchant for a Ray Warren impersonation given his recent match-winning habits.

“No, he’s wonderful to have in the team. He takes it all on his shoulders in a situation like that. If he misses, we lose. But he stands up and we love having him.

“He guides you around and when it matters the most he pulls through for us.”

Not bad for a bloke who wasn’t sure he’d ever play again after shoulder and knee injuries limited him to just six matches in 2012. Not that it was doctor’s orders holding the 26-year-old back.

Rather, a far greater obstacle – crippling self doubt – had Hodkinson fearing he’d never return from the chronic knee injury that required cutting-edge stem cell surgery.

“The doctors never said that [I couldn’t play on]. It was the demons in the back in the back of my mind," he revealed.

“They were confident I could come back to full fitness but I didn’t really believe them at first.

“There were some down days back then, questioning myself about whether I’d be back playing and whether I can have the confidence in my body to do so.”

It’s hard to imagine a man such as Hodkinson lacking in confidence.

This is the guy who after just half a season in the top grade, having never kicked a field goal in his 21 years to date, booted two in three minutes to sink the Rabbitohs back in 2010.

The man who reigns supreme as the NRL’s iceman, having now won six matches off his own boot since debuting for Manly four years ago.

“The kicks going over definitely help with the confidence,” Hodkinson said.

“I was saying in my head to do exactly what I did last week.

“I really enjoy the goal kicking and the field goals too. I’ve done it since a young age, from Harold Matt’s right up to (SG) Ball, (Jersey) Flegg and everything, so I enjoy the challenge I guess and it’s going alright.”

The next challenge that beckons for Hodkinson is one so many 10-year-olds dream of, but few get a genuine crack at.

The representative jumper he first wore in his debut year, the blue and gold of the City Origin jersey, presents itself again as his for the taking and the Bulldogs half plans to make his second chance count.

“I was only about seven games in when I made City, and I was a young kid just fresh into the game," he said.

“But now I’ve had to work harder on my game and obviously with injuries it’s been tough, but I know I’ve improved as a player now and I’m a bit smarter, that’s probably the main difference now.”

And should he get the chance for City with the game going down to the wire, you can almost hear the commentary winding up again.

“Here it comes, scores are level. The balls swings back to Hodkinson…”

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