Hodkinson laps up pressure for Dogs
The Bulldogs may well have found the key to their next premiership challenge - and it comes in the form of a player who only last year was resigned to playing reserve grade football.
Just 12 months ago Trent Hodkinson was considered the second-choice halfback at Canterbury, with coach Des Hasler opting to run with Kris Keating in the No.7 jersey.
Fast forward to current day and the nugget Cabramatta junior has the Doggies firing on all cylinders as he sits second on the Dally M leaderboard, behind halves partner Josh Reynolds.
After playing his best game of the year on Sunday against the Warriors, where he came up with a clutch penalty from out wide on 75 minutes, before calmly slotting the winning-field goal three minutes later, many believe Hodkinson is ready to dominate the NRL.
“It was my first full pre-season in three years [in 2014]. I have had surgeries and half a pre-season for the last three years, but the body feels good and it makes a big difference starting with the boys right from the word go,” Hodkinson said in explanation to his good form.
“There is still plenty of room for improvement but it is all feeling alright and going well.”
With the game on the line “Hokko” stood up where many players fall over.
His calmness in leading the Bulldogs back from an eight-point deficit with 14 minutes remaining was praised by Hasler at fulltime.
“Hokko has been in good form this year, he has been in that situation before and he is that kind of player that is pretty composed, always cool and calm and always seems to have plenty of time with it,” said Hasler, who coached the playmaker at Manly in 2010, before linking up with him again at the Bulldogs two years later.
While Hodkinson said that he rarely feels pressure on the footy field, he did admit to having some butterflies late in the Eden Park fixture, with the vocal crowd of 22,165 willing him to fail.
“Probably the penalty [was the most pressure] because obviously it was to even it up and it was a bit wider than most penalties are taken, but I just treated it like any other kick,” he said.
“The crowd was into me but I just stayed composed and knocked it over.
“It [calmness] is natural I guess, I am an easy going bloke and I take that out onto the field. I am a relaxed type of guy so it helps.”
Against the Warriors Hodkinson ran for over 100 metres, including a match-changing intercept on 67 minutes. A quick play-the-ball from that run then set up the overlap on the right side which led to a Tim Lafai try.
However, it was his efforts off the boot which proved most valuable to the team, converting all four of his shots at goal which gave the Dogs an edge despite scoring a try less than the Warriors.
Kicking at an astounding 91 per cent so far in 2014, Hodkinson is currently the second highest points scorer in the competition.
Despite his side not taking the lead until that 78th-minute field goal, Hodkinson said he was always confident they would overcome the Warriors in the end.
“We knew if we hung in there right for the 80 we would outplay them - we knew we would be fitter than them and they would run out of puff.
“I think we are definitely growing as team, you can feel it out there on the footy field,” he concluded.