If anyone understands the gravity of tonight’s blockbuster at ANZ Stadium, it’s Bulldogs back-rower Michael Hodgson.<br><br>While many of his team-mates – six of them in fact – already boast a premiership ring, Hodgson, who made his NRL debut way back in 1998, has never even played in a preliminary final.<br><br>“I’ve never gone further than the second round of the semi-finals and the game the other week (against Newcastle) was the first semi-final I’ve ever won, so this is definitely the highest-stakes game I’ve been involved in,” the 29-year-old said ahead of tonight’s clash with his former club Parramatta.<br><br>“That’s one thing having been around for a while, I know how rare an opportunity this is. <br><br>“Obviously with 16 teams in the comp, I’m very privileged and lucky to be in this position on the back of a lot of hard work from the boys and the club. <br><br>“It is easily the biggest game of my career.”<br><br>It’s been a long time coming for Hodgson, who began his career at Parramatta before a lengthy stint with Canberra and a move to the Gold Coast when they were admitted in 2007.<br><br>The veteran forward denies, however, that he has ever been a finals curse.<br><br>“Not at all,” he said. “When I was at Canberra we would just roll into the eight so we were never expected to win any there. <br><br>“It was actually pretty ordinary when I read that it (his finals record) was written in the paper but anyway, we’ve moved on.”<br><br>That Hodgson should suddenly find himself thrust into the finals limelight after 175 first grade games is thanks to an unexpected turn of events after he had announced his retirement 12 months ago.<br><br>Unwanted by the Titans, he was set to return home to Canberra where wife Sally still runs a beauty salon, until a word from Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan to chief executive Todd Greenberg provided a last-minute reprieve.<br><br>“Retirement was certainly on my mind – Sally and I had to get our priorities in line and see what was going to serve us best long term,” Hodgson said. <br><br>“But ‘Bobcat’ (Ryan) said he would like me to be a part of the club and the rest is history. <br><br>“It’s all because of him. <br><br>“I certainly enjoyed my footy last year on the Gold Coast – I loved it – so the chance to go around again excited me. <br><br>“I’ve really enjoyed my football this year so I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity.”<br><br>Hodgson said the fact he was playing off against former Eels team-mates and good friends Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless for a spot in next week’s grand final made the occasion particularly memorable.<br><br>“I still have a yarn to them every now and then and it’s pretty special to be playing against them. <br><br>“I was actually thinking today it’s pretty surreal. <br><br>“Looking back, it was 1998 when I first went to Parramatta … it sounds like a long time ago but I’m still kicking on.”<br><br>And the prospect of a premiership after 12 years in the NRL?<br><br>“Unbelievable, words can’t describe what that would mean to me and the club,” Hodgson said. <br><br>“Obviously some players have been here through some tough times – through good times and bad – but for me personally it would be an amazing achievement if I could look back and say I achieved that with such a good group of blokes.”<br><br><b>Late news:</b><br>• Crucial Parramatta duo Daniel Mortimer and Krisnan Inu have both passed fitness tests and will take the field for tonight’s clash with the Bulldogs.
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