Barba praises new Broncos fullback
He may have scored his first hat-trick in over two years, but Ben Barba says the accolades belong to makeshift fullback Justin Hodges in the wake of Brisbane's 48-6 thrashing of Newcastle on Saturday night.
The veteran Bronco wound back the clock to reprise the custodian's role against the Knights with immediate success, having a hand in four of Brisbane's nine tries while also contributing three line-break assists, two offloads and a nonchalant 127 metres.
Hodges was influential from the early stages on a soggy Suncorp Stadium surface, bringing back memories from his successful stint at fullback during Brisbane's 2006 premiership season.
Brisbane's backs ran riot over the Knights in the latter stages of their 42-point triumph with six tries scored in the final 23 minutes, including Barba's hat-trick inside 11 second-half minutes.
It was Barba's first three-try haul since Round 21, 2012, but the ball was magnetised towards the hands of Hodges throughout the entire match as he roamed freely around the field terrorising the lacklustre Knights.
His performance brought praise from teammates and former coach Wayne Bennett, who described his match as "outstanding".
Barba was in awe of the versatility of the 32-year-old.
"It's amazing what that guy can do at his age, he just fits in and can play anywhere really," Barba told NRL.com.
"You can just sit back sometimes and watch him and see what that guy does, it's just a credit to him and what he can do. It's just a pleasure to play alongside him."
Hodges' shift to fullback looked to have brought the best out of Brisbane's backline, with Jack Reed scoring twice to go along with Barba's three and a try each to wingmen Daniel Vidot and Lachlan Maranta.
It wasn't a smooth transition at first, as Brisbane's first meaningful attack ended prematurely by a poor pass. But as the game wore on, Hodges continued to dominate and stamp his influence on proceedings.
"I think that comes from him being one of the leaders at the club and one of the co-captains," Barba added.
"The boys really listen to what he's saying because he's been around the game long enough and he knows what goes on and how to win footy games.
"What he says goes on the footy field, if he wants that ball you give it to him. Obviously you can see what he can do and he can definitely put points on the board for you. "
Barba wasn’t the only admirer of Hodges with opposition coach Wayne Bennett also gushing in praise of player he first placed in the fullback role eight years ago.
"He was outstanding tonight. He was head and shoulders above everybody out there tonight," Bennett said.
"It's a wonderful position to play fullback and he's got vision and he's got all the qualities there that... I'm not sure how many tries they finished up scoring but in the second half there wasn't one that he didn't have his hands on.
"I think there was one just before half-time that he didn't have a final pass in. We knew he was playing there, we did some practice yesterday but losing Mullen was a crucial thing for us and our right-side defence. We just didn't recover from that."
Broncos centre Dale Copley was another to sing the praises of Hodges' heavenly performance.
"I thought he was pretty good tonight. With him at fullback it gets him involved and he gives us a bit of x-factor there. It was pretty special," he said.