Canterbury have won four out of six games since former boom rookie Trent Hodkinson returned to the team at halfback, but he isn’t taking credit for the turnaround.
Hodkinson says the 38-0 loss to Sydney Roosters in Round 5 was the painful reality check that forced last year’s minor premiers and beaten grand finalists to lift their game.
“It was a kick up the arse,” was how Hodkinson described the heavy defeat that was there for all to see on Friday night football.
“We had to knuckle down after that. We’ve had one more hiccup since, against Newcastle, but we came out of that the right way as well, by beating Brisbane last week.
“We had a lot better attitude and showed a lot more intent against the Broncos than we did against the Knights.”
Hodkinson only played six first-grade games for the Bulldogs last season. Injury got the better of him and he finished it by having two operations – one on each shoulder.
“I had the first operation in late August and the second in late September,” he said. “I had rotator cuff damage to one shoulder and I needed a reconstruction on the other one.”
Naturally, the recovery time needed meant that Hodkinson couldn’t do as much pre-season training as his teammates, but it is clear now that as long as he came back strong he was always going to challenge for the position held for most of last season by Kris Keating.
“Recovering from the operations held me back a bit at training until the Christmas break,” Hodkinson said. “I was indoors a lot, doing rehab. But once we came back after the Christmas break I was doing the same as the rest of the guys.
“I played in the last trial game we had, but Dessie (coach Des Hasler) thought it would be best if I played a few games in the NSW Cup and got some confidence back before I was considered for first grade.”
Returning to first grade on a night when your team is smashed by almost 40 points is obviously not ideal, but Hodkinson says he was just glad to be back.
“It was a terrible night for us,” he said. “But I got the full 80 minutes in, which helped me a lot. I didn’t play a lot of football last year, but Dessie always kept me in the loop of things.
“I went to all the video sessions even though I wasn’t in the team, so that I stayed familiar with what they were trying to do out there. I knew that if I did everything right with my recovery and came back playing well enough I would get a chance in first grade at some stage of this season.”
The loss to the Roosters completed a four-game losing streak for the Bulldogs against teams that now make up the clear top four on the competition table – Melbourne, South Sydney and Manly being the others.
Since then, Canterbury have beaten Cronulla, Wests Tigers and the Warriors, lost to the Knights and beaten the Broncos. The manner of the 44-8 loss to Newcastle, when the Bulldogs collapsed after halftime, was very disappointing, and it was very important to bounce straight back.
“Newcastle turned up on the day and we didn’t,” Hodkinson conceded. “They were fired up. They had been pumped the week before by Canberra and had something to prove. We were right in it at halftime, but in the second half we weren’t there.
“Our attitude was there from the start against the Broncos last week. I guess we were a bit like the Knights were against us – determined to prove the previous week’s form wrong.
“It’s pretty clear in this competition that you can’t take anything for granted. I think what has happened with the Warriors in the past two weeks is all the proof you need of that.”
The Bulldogs will play St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium on Friday. The Dragons have lost four of their past five games, including a 19-0 defeat by Penrith last weekend, and their only win during that time was against struggling Parramatta.
But in an extension of what he was talking about with the Warriors, who were beaten 62-6 by Penrith one week and then beat Newcastle 28-12 the next week, Hodkinson is adamant the recent form of the Dragons means nothing.
“They’ll be looking to turn it around,” he said. “They’ll come out hungry, and they’ll be aggressive. We’re focusing a lot on what we have to do with our game, but we’ve also got to be ready for what we expect from them.”