Hodkinson: I owe Des the world
Over the course of the Bulldogs' run to the biggest occasion on the NRL calendar, Trent Hodkinson has confirmed himself as the game's pre-eminent super boot.
So two years ago as he watched his teammates make that same journey to the 2012 decider from the sidelines, you can only imagine how perfectly placed those stones he was kicking were. Straight over the black dot.
At his lowest ebb, Hodkinson broke down in tears on his way home from a NSW Cup game at his former Brookvale Oval stamping ground.
First the medial ligament in his left knee went. Then both shoulders went. And all the while his other knee gave him so much grief he could barely hobble up a staircase.
As his injuries limited him to just six appearances in 2012, the then 24-year-old could only watch on as Kris Keating claimed his No. 7 jumper and the streets of Belmore exploded into scenes of blue and white elation as the Bulldogs' fairytale wrote itself.
It was all too much. He contemplated hanging up the super boots. As his Bulldogs mates went from ninth place to a grand final appearance in Des Hasler's first year at the club, Hodkinson didn't want to step outside the front door.
Dragging him out of the mire and back into the Bulldogs' inner sanctum he had considered abandoning was mentor Hasler, who along with Hodkinson's fiancé Chantelle Traficante, helped top up a glass that was the wrong side of half-empty.
"Des was great with me during that tough year," Hodkinson tells NRL.com.
"He was including me in the video sessions and making sure that I was doing my rehab and training at the same time as the boys did theirs. It was all together for us.
"He made sure I was going to the home games, watching on at the ground and I was there for the grand final.
"He was great, he kept me in the loop because it is easy when you’re injured, not to be forgotten but a little bit left out.
"I was really grateful Des made sure to include me in everything and let me in on everything. It definitely made it easier to be missing out on that grand final experience rather than harder.
"It was very tough for me personally missing out on that but at the same time I was stoked for the boys to get there and have such a successful year."
Hasler is famed for backing his players to the hilt. And being the astute judge he is, having him in your corner is exactly the type of thing that can drag a player out of the depths and elevate them to the heights of premiership and Origin glory.
Infamously frugal, the Dogs' clipboard carrier isn't the type to throw his hard-earned down on a horse he's unsure of.
Being able to call on the belief and understanding from the man that ultimately made the call on his future was huge for Hodkinson as he first returned to the field, and then rose to elite status in the game.
"There was never any rush to get back at that time from him," he says. "He just kept saying 'be patient... stay positive'. He was just driving home 'make sure you get your body right, so when you do come back you can play to your potential and play your best footy'.
"I was stoked when he signed and came over in 2012 and I’ve been under him for a long time now.
"I’m lucky with him [Hasler] being a halfback, he’s a great sounding board and he’s great for my game.
"But as a bloke, you always know where you stand with him. He's intense and straight to the point, and during that rough trot, he was great with me.
"Up front and always letting me know where I stood. I owe him a lot."
Right there alongside Hasler and Hodkinson was Traficante. The girl he met five years ago in Rockhampton, who was right there behind the wheel on that lonely trip home from Brookvale midway through 2012.
The woman that win, lose or draw on Sunday night, will cap the greatest year of Hodkinson's life when she walks down the aisle to meet him at the end of the month.
"Chantelle did a great job with me at home when I was down in the dumps," Hodkinson says.
"I didn’t want to go outside really and she has played a huge part of where I am today and I can’t thank her enough."
"I had a lot of positivity around me and they pushed me to stick with it which was nice and it was pleasing to come back and finally make a GF."
And after a year that has been peppered with killer clutch plays, match-winning field goals, conversions and four-pointers, you get the feeling just making a grand final isn't where Hodkinson plans for his breakout season to reach its climax.
Not after the years that preceded it, and not with the people that stand beside him.
(Additional reporting by Jack Brady)