Fittler: Hodges facing big decision
He's playing some of the finest football of his career and developed into a genuine leader but Broncos co-captain Justin Hodges should consider standing down from representative football for the sake of his club.
That's the opinion of legendary Roosters captain Brad Fittler who was on hand on Friday night to witness his former teammate guide his team to a do-or-die showdown with the Storm on Friday night for a place in the 2014 Finals Series.
Brisbane are clinging to eighth position with a seven-point better differential than the Warriors with even a win over Melbourne not necessarily enough to secure a top eight finish. A key in Brisbane's past two victories has been the move of Hodges to fullback with his cool-headedness on Friday night a far cry from the feisty character who first came into the top grade.
With incumbent Kangaroos vice-captain Paul Gallen now banned from taking part in the Four Nations, Hodges shapes as a legitimate deputy for captain Cameron Smith, but Fittler believes he should consider skipping the Four Nations altogether.
"I think he's still dealing with injury. He's now 31 so I think there'll be a big decision for him," Fittler told NRL.com. "He's most probably got a lot to repay the Broncos so I think given the amount of rep footy this year and their dedication to their Origin team I think he'll have a big decision whenever their season finishes, whether he plays on or gets himself ready for another year.
"Given he's captain, that will also weigh into the equation."
In addition to his impressive play at No.1 – "It's a bit of a shame really for Brisbane, that you can't play six fullbacks" – Hodges was the senior voice when Matt Gillett was controversially sin-binned in the 54th minute of their win over St George Illawarra.
Given the Dragons scored twice and then again shortly after Gillett's return you could argue his words failed to find their mark but the manner in which he has embraced the co-captaincy with Corey Parker has surprised even Fittler, one of the great club captains of the modern era.
"I always pictured him as a right centre and very rarely are right centres captains; Jamie Lyon is probably the exception," Fittler said.
"Captains of the sides tend to be more in the middle of the field but he always had it in his footy and you can see that develop as he's gotten older. One thing that astounded me, every time he fought back from injury he never mucked around and took time to get back in the groove; his first game was always a good one. That in itself shows a level of maturity.
"I always liked him, he was always someone who had personality, he wasn't a wallflower. The big change has come this year if anything. When they named him captain I didn't really picture him as a leader. When they dropped Sam Thaiday that sort of made me stand up a little bit and take notice."
After a season at the Roosters himself in 2005, Ben Hannant played his first game for the Broncos in 2006 with Hodges at right centre and says he has noticed a change since being handed the co-captaincy
"He's grown up a lot. He's taken more of a leadership role on and he definitely talks a lot more than he used to," Hannant said. "He's a bloke who backs himself and we've seen that in the past couple of weeks.
"He's not a spring chicken anymore, he's a seasoned veteran, and his learnt along the way and continues to get better and better. As long as his body holds up we'll definitely love to have him out on the field."
With Maroons teammates in Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater plotting the Broncos' downfall this week, the influence of Hodges has never been more important for Brisbane, particularly his composure under relentless Storm pressure.
"The one thing he does do, he reads the game really well and I think someone labelled him [on Friday night], very nonchalant and that tends to be his way," said Fittler.
"I was watching him and Ben Hunt was creating everything and he never overplayed his hand. It was a pretty big game for the Broncos and he handled it extremely well.
"He's got that nastiness about him that you like someone in your team to have and you don't really like playing against someone with that little bit of nastiness. I think it excites everyone when he's ready to play, which seems to be every game these days."
Additional reporting by Matt Harris