You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson celebrates a match-winning field goal.

How many rugby league players do you think lie awake at night, wondering how they can make a difference?

Not four minutes into extra time of a sudden-death semi-final, where a fluffed field goal attempt can mean the difference between keeping a premiership campaign alive and kicking off Mad Monday early.

Not even on the game's biggest stage, where a call to override a play can be the difference between ending eight years of interstate dominance, or one of the greatest rugby league sides ever assembled continuing on its merry way.

Trent Hodkinson has been the difference more times than you can poke a thousand burnt sticks at in 2014. The difference in countless blue and white wins at the death, which have the Bulldogs now within 80 minutes of a grand final. The difference in a pair of incredible sky blue victories, which let eight-year olds across the entire Premier State finally know what it's like to have a triumphant Origin outfit of their own.

And yet he lies awake at night, wondering how he can make a difference.

So each week, Hodkinson takes a kicking tee and he scrawls a name on it. In big, permanent, unmissable letters.

And just like that he makes a difference. To kids like Anthony Heap, who at 15 years old has seen more hospital beds and more men in white coats due to his battle with cystic fibrosis than any human being should.

To kids like Callum Henderson, who instead of enjoying the second week of his school holidays earlier this year, was losing his eyesight and going under the knife to have a tumour removed from his brain.

To these kids, and the 20-odd others that Hodkinson has visited or got in touch with and then dedicates a lime green kicking tee to over the course of the year, it can mean the world. For young Callum, now thankfully on the mend, Hodkinson's visit was a "life-changing experience". 

For the latest and incredibly deserving recipient of the Ken Stephen Medal, it all makes a hell of a difference too. More than these kids know.

"I started doing the kicking tees purely because I just wanted to get involved in the community a lot more and things off the park," Hodkinson says.

"I write the name on the tee before the game, usually just before I'm running out. I'll get a rundown of what the kid's suffering and try and visit them at some point, and it definitely helps me out there, knowing the kids are watching and getting a lift out of it."

Hodkinson's already seen plenty in this game, having scaled the highest of highs and plumbed the deepest of depths that rugby league has to offer. 

From fitting fire sprinklers for $500 a week and wondering if he'd ever play again after crippling knee and shoulder injuries, to the euphoria of Origin and finals glory, he's one of the last blokes who needs a dose of reality, as rugby league players do from time to time. 

But that's exactly what all those hours given to others give him. Be it as an RSPCA ambassador, his involvement in the Bulldogs' education programs or all those hospital visits and kicking tees, Hodkinson walks away from each one with a healthy dollop of perspective.

"There's kids who do it really tough out there," he says. 

"They're definitely doing it tougher than what we are, even with ACL's and shoulders and all the rest of it. It's a great leveller and gives me perspective every single time.

"To hear someone like Callum say what he said about meeting me, it feels amazing.

"I remember the first time I walked into the hospital and visited him he wasn't feeling too well, but doing OK. But ever since he's been improving which is what you want to hear and that's why we do it. They're the stories that you want to hear and it makes you feel good about yourself."

And so we come full circle, back to the original question.

How many rugby league players do you think lie awake at night, wondering how they can make a difference?

The answer: probably more than you think. It comes when you ask Hodkinson what it means to be dubbed rugby league's nicest guy. 

"It's a great feeling to be announced the winner, a huge honour and something I'll always be very proud of," he begins.

"But sitting in a room with so many other players that do such great work in the community, I was just happy to be in that room enjoying the night."

Because in one corner of the room is Newcastle's Robbie Rochow, who whacks on a red nose for SIDS, in memory of the older brother his family lost to cot death before he was born. 

In another is Melbourne winger Matt Duffie, the Kiwi who instead of kicking stones the last two injury cruelled seasons has thrown himself into a role with the Epilespy Foundation. 

And off to the side is Raiders forward Joel Edwards, who visits hospitalised kids telling them "chicks dig scars" and showing off his own zippers as they recover from surgery.

In the end, for all the headlines about players behaving badly, referees and a game supposedly in crisis every other day, this is what makes all the difference. 

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

View All Partners