Once a dissenter, Justin Hodges is now a mediator with officials as co-captain of the Broncos. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos

Hodges earns Bronco redemption

Justin Hodges and Wayne Bennett haven't always seen eye-to-eye. 

Rewind the clock back to 2001 when the then 19-year-old made headlines for the wrong reasons, unceremoniously dumped from the Broncos mid-season by then-coach Wayne Bennett after announcing he had signed a three-year contract with the Roosters. 

Hodges wasn't happy at being demoted to feeder club Toowoomba Clydesdales for the remainder of that season and was unrepentant in venting his frustrations, much to the annoyance of Bennett, who refused to shift from his stance.

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Throughout this testing period, the master coach maintained his usual calm demeanour, refusing to submit to Hodges' requests for a start in a side already brimming with talented outside backs including Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Michael De Vere and Chris Walker.

Having made his debut on the wing against the Raiders in Round 14, 2000, Hodges was used primarily as a winger and impact player off the bench and indeed it wasn't until he debuted for the Roosters in 2002 that he shifted to his preferred role in the centres.

Now 31 years of age and two games into a second comeback from an achilles injury, Hodges has completed an unlikely full circle, co-captain of the club that felt as though he had conducted an act of treason by heading to Bondi.
Of his 216 career games 158 have come at the Broncos along with 68 of his 94 tries and on Friday night he will come up against the man who froze him out of Red Hill in his fledging days of first grade.

Speaking with Corey Parker at the unveiling of their captains' photo on the wall of the Broncos Leagues Club, Hodges outlined the importance the significance that the Wayne Bennett factor now brings to every Broncos clash with the Knights.

"We're coming up against 'Benny' (Wayne Bennett) again as well so that [takes it to] another level," Hodges said. "Playing Newcastle in Newcastle, which is one of the hardest road trips you can do.

"They had a good win down in Canberra which is hard as well and they're going to come out of that very confident so we've got a tough job.

"There are no easy games anymore. Now and again you might get a game where you blow them out."

Hodges' partner at the helm of the Broncos, Corey Parker, spoke of the honour of leading his boyhood club with a friend with whom he has been a teammate since their days as juniors at Logan Brothers.

"I've been very fortunate to be here for 14 years and now to have to opportunity to captain with a great mate that I've played a lot of footy with is a great honour," Parker said of the co-captaincy.

Splitting the captaincy into a role shared by two of the club's most senior players represents a new era at the Broncos who have been blessed to have leaders the calibre of Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Gorden Tallis and Darren Lockyer in its 25-year history.

While Parker wore the 'c' solely next to his name for the opening month, the return of Hodges has enabled the pair to share the load between the backs and the forwards.

"It's been OK. You don't get much time anymore to have a yarn to the ref," Parker said of having two captains on the field at the one time. 

"The on-the-field stuff has been quite good, it's more the off-field stuff which has been the best thing about having two captains."

"Like 'Cozza' said, it's the stuff away from the field like training that's really helped," added Hodges. "Cozza looks after the forwards and I looked after the backs.
 
"We're both experienced players so at times Coz, as you saw on the weekend, called a couple of shots and we just go with it.

"Sometimes in a game you don't have time to come together and chat you just play what's in front of you."