Justin Hodges: I can't wait to play... Souths
In the first of a new series counting down until the release of the 2015 NRL draw, we ask some of the biggest stars in the NRL to nominate the games and opposition players that have a special place on their calendars.
As a two-time premiership winner Broncos stalwart Justin Hodges knows what it is like to be the hunted but as the countdown to the 2015 season draws ever closer, Hodges is looking forward to being the hunter.
The release of the 2015 NRL draw is now just a matter of days away and Hodges has already honed in on a prized target; defending premiers the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
If speculation is to be believed it may serve as the opening game of the season on Thursday, March 5 with sports betting agency Sportsbet even opening a market on who would win should the two teams meet, initially installing the Broncos as $1.77 favourites.
“There was hardly a dollar placed on the defending premiers when we opened the market," said Sportsbet's Christian Jantzen. "Punters obviously think the loss of Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o will be a factor. Having Wayne Bennett take the reins doesn’t exactly hurt the Broncos chances either."
The return of Bennett and an extensive recruitment drive has reinvigorated belief that the Broncos are on their way to becoming an NRL powerhouse once again and Hodges said that the greatest test comes from taking on the very best.
"Probably the reigning premiers, Souths, is the team you want to play against," Hodges told NRL.com. "They're the best team in the comp and you want to see where your side's at mentally and physically
"You're always going to compare yourselves against the best sides in the comp and as the reigning premiers you want to play against them and see where you're at.
"When you win a comp you're always a target for the next year but that's a good thing as well. I think that brings the best out of every player when you know you're getting targeted.
"Sometimes when you win a comp you can get complacent and not want to do the extra work but when you know every team's hunting for you, you know you've got to be on your game the whole time."
An expanded Anzac Day program in 2014 saw the Broncos face the Rabbitohs in front of more than 44,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium and the veteran of 231 NRL games says those special occasions are the ones that players get most enthused about.
"Playing [Anzac Day] is special with all the history and everything behind it and obviously Origin and finals football this year," said Hodges. "We only got a little taste of that, only one game, but those games always stand out above everything else."
As for any personal rivalries or friendships that get placed on hold over the course of 80 minutes throughout the season, you get the sense that despite the reputation he earned early in his career that the 32-year-old prefers now to let his football do all of the talking.
"Most of the time you're playing against your good mates but when you're out on the footy field you know you're out there to win the game and do what you can to win for your side," he said.
"There's not really much heckling and that going on and there's not really any text messages or anything during the week. Everyone's just trying to win the game and prepare the best they can."