Raiders recruit halts Man of Steel
There was no better player in the Super League in 2014 than Castleford hooker Daryl Clark but Canberra recruit Josh Hodgson has been preferred by coach Steve McNamara to wear the No.9 in England's Four Nations opener against Samoa on Saturday evening.
Clark's explosiveness out of dummy-half captured the imagination of the competition as Castleford broke a four year finals drought by finishing fourth at the end of the regular season and it earned him a place in McNamara's squad and ultimately a spot on the bench against Samoa.
As he prepares to make his Test debut, a humble Hodgson spoke highly of the impact Clark had on the Super League this year and the different styles that they both bring to the England team.
"Daryl is a very quick player and he has a great turn of pace and he has great feet as well," Hodgson said. "He didn't win Man of Steel for nothing so he's a great player to have in the team and I'm sure he'll cut teams to ribbons when the big blokes around the ruck are tired.
"The way I play, I'm not sure. I like to think that I work hard and do the little things you don't see like the one per centers for the team. I like to play tough and really I just do anything the coach asks me to do."
It's been a meteoric rise for 21-year-old Clark who was sold to Warrington at the end of the 2013 season to keep Castleford from going into financial administration but who was allowed to stay on with the club whom he made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2011.
After scoring a hat-trick against Widnes earlier in the year – he scored 13 tries for the season – Castleford coach Daryl Powell called for Clark to be England's starting hooker in the Four Nations campaign.
"He's got ability, pace, strength and toughness, he's the perfect rugby league player,” Powell told The Guardian.
"He's got that bit of class about him that can trouble the Australians. They don’t know much about him. He's played some special games this year."
Despite wearing the No.14 for the entire Super League season, Clark started in the vast majority of games but says reverting to the bench for the start of the Four Nations may open up some opportunities.
"I'm just happy to be playing. I'm not too fussed about starting or coming off the bench," Clark said. "When I come through as a youngster I pretty much made a name for myself coming off the bench and after the first 20 or 30 [minutes] when the big blokes are tiring, so hopefully that will work for me on Saturday.
"The Samoans are a pretty big team so hopefully they'll get tired out pretty quickly."
With Clark waiting in the wings all signs point to the Raiders having found a key ingredient in Hodgson in staging a NRL resurgence in 2015 after signing the soon-to-be 25-year-old from Hull Kingston Rovers to a two-year deal.
Hull born and bred and with a father who was something of a legend in the local leagues and will be proudly watching his son run out for England from back home, Hodgson is not coming to the NRL to ride on the coat-tails of others but to help coach Ricky Stuart usher in an exciting wave of young talent coming up through the grades.
He topped Hull KR's stats for both metres gained and tackles made, was second for tries scored at the club in 2014 with 11 and his 11 try assists were the third-most by a Rovers player and is confident his five years in the Super League have prepared him to take on a leadership role in Canberra.
"I managed to co-captain the Hull Kingston Rovers alongside Travis Burns last year as well, and one of main things I'd usually say was 'practice what you preach' so I think that's one thing I've always tried to live by," Hodgson told NRL.com. "It is all well and good to talk a big game but you have to go out there and do it yourself and I'd like to think that I did that in my time with Hull KR.
"[Stuart] has said he is looking to rebuild the team and he has some good young kids there from what I'm hearing so he wants me to be a part of that. I'm hoping to bring a lot to the side and hopefully if there's a few young kids there in my position I can help them out and hopefully there a few there that can give me a few words of wisdom about the NRL.
"Playing in the NRL is something I have been thinking about for a while and when it came up I just wanted to make it happen really. I still had two years on my Hull KR deal but the club were good enough to make it happen for me and let me fulfil my dreams and ambitions as well so they understood... and now I just want to back myself to do a good job for the Raiders."