Hodges admits to Origin doubts
It's been a recurring theme of the Maroons camp ahead of the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series opener; that 'Hodgo' knows his body best and will be all right on the night.
Indeed, centre Justin Hodges didn't complete a full session with the team until Sunday afternoon as he battled to overcome an ankle injury incurred more than a week earlier against the Titans.
It was the latest bump to a 32-year-old body that has had to battle through more than its fair share of aches and pains and one that – perhaps to outsiders only – made his position in the team for Game One questionable.
Queensland captain Cameron Smith expressed confidence in Hodges' ability to be near enough to 100 per cent while in the same breath praising the man who would replace him, Will Chambers, in a clever piece of covering his backside.
But as Hodges asks his state teammates to trust in his judgement, the Broncos co-captain has revealed that it took some convincing from club coach Anthony Griffin before he made it back onto the paddock at all.
With Origin fuelling his desire to return from a second achilles injury as quickly as possible, Hodges admitted that it took some convincing from Griffin and the Broncos medical staff before he played his first game in eight months against the Eels in Round 5.
"For me I was trying to wait a little bit longer," Hodges said when asked if he had rushed his return to the field.
"We went through it all with the medical staff and they told me that I was cleared and ready to play but like everything when you come back from a big injury it's confidence and your mind plays tricks on you whether you can do it. You're scared to go out there and step and all that type of stuff but like 'Hook' (Griffin) said, 'You've just got to get out there and do it.'
"And that's what drove me to have a go, just get out there and play footy and that's what I did, I just went out there and tried to take my mind off it.
"When I went out there I just tried to get the ball as quick as I could and have a run and hopefully take a big tackle and just get back into the swing of things. That's the best thing you can do; not stand out there and wait for the ball to come, I just went out there and tried to get the ball and get my first tackle."
Now just two games away from receiving the Dick 'Tosser' Turner Medal for playing 20 Origin matches for Queensland, Hodges admits that he had doubts he would make it back in time to line up in Origin No.100 on Wednesday night.
With an expected recovery time of 12 months and the mental torture that goes with such a long recovery, when Hodges snapped his left achilles in Round 22 last year the word 'retirement' was whispered by many in hushed tones.
It was never a consideration for the man who made his Origin debut way back in 2002 but he did admit that he doubted whether time would be on his side.
"When I first did my leg all those months ago I was setting my goal of coming back and playing Origin but in my mind there were always doubts," he said.
"It was a long hard road and a lot tougher than the other ones I've had before but I knew if I worked hard and did all the little things right that I'd get back here and I'm very thankful.
"Every time that I've been a part of this side and see everyone who has won [the 'Tosser' Turner] Medal and the emotion when they speak about it and when they get it, it is something that burns inside.
"I've been playing a long time and with the games that I've been out with injury I could have had it a long time ago.
"For me it's something that really burns so I can't wait for Game Two."
The birth of his son Carter just 12 weeks ago gave Hodges a major positive during a difficult time and his return for the Broncos gave the entire playing group a lift.
Named co-captain alongside Corey Parker in the pre-season, Hodges has been given more of a roving capacity by Griffin with the freedom to pop up on either side of the park.
His expanded attacking role at club level and Greg Inglis's greater involvement at fullback for South Sydney opens up a raft of options for Maroons coach Mal Meninga but Hodges is not predicting fans will see anything too out of the ordinary from the eight-time defending champions.
"Origin footy's a lot different to club [footy]," he said. "You're playing against the best 17 players in the comp so those plays that work in club footy aren't necessarily going to work at Origin level so you just have to bide your time.
"Sometimes you get a bit frustrated but you just have to wait until things do happen – sometimes it won't – but you've just got to wait and for me it's a matter of going in there and getting into dummy-half and help out the forwards as well.
"We've got great halves, a couple of the best halves to ever play the game, and we always get the ball. It's just a matter of our forwards going forward for us, which they always do, and having the belief that guys like Billy [Slater], 'Coops' (Cooper Cronk) and 'Thursto' (Johnathan Thurston) will get us the ball out wide."
And if he finishes Game Three with a ninth straight Series win and possession of the 'Tosser' Turner Medal, will that be the last we see of Hodges in the Origin arena?
"I'm just going to play this series first and see what happens next year," Hodges said. "I don't look too far ahead – I always take one game as it comes and what's meant to be is meant to be."
Additional reporting by Matt Harris