Hodkinson guarantees he'll step up for NSW
Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson readily admits his form this year isn't where he'd like it to be but has guaranteed NSW coach Laurie Daley will see the best of him if he is rewarded with another Blues jersey.
Seven days before Daley announces whether he is sticking solid with his incumbent halfback, the softly-spoken 26-year-old would rather focus on helping his club side bounce back from its two straight losses with a win against the Roosters and talk about anything other than Origin.
He tries not to read the headlines or let the speculation affect him.
In fact you get the feeling Trent Hodkinson would rather be anywhere else than smack-bang in the middle of the bright glare of the State of Origin spotlight.
The problem is that Origin glare is magnified exponentially by the fact he and fellow Blues incumbent, Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds, are preparing to face off against the two players fighting to displace them from that side: Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney.
Much has been made of the recent form of all four players; more than Hodkinson would like. But come what may, if he gets the chance, Hodkinson is adamant he'll be ready for the game's fiercest cauldron on May 27 if he gets the chance.
He told media on Tuesday the build up to this year's Origin series, as an incumbent, is drastically different to last year and he felt a measure of sympathy for the scrutiny Pearce has found himself under for so long at this time of the season.
"It's a lot different. Obviously being the incumbent, it's funny, there is so much talk going around. There is a lot more pressure. This time last year I wasn't even in the frame so it was a bit easier," Hodkinson said.
"I now know how 'Pearcey' feels. For so many years he has been getting hammered and I've felt it now. It's not the best but you've got to ignore it which I've tried to do. It comes with it, I've just got to cop it.
"I've seen over the years how much he has copped it and I can feel it a bit this year."
Rightly or wrongly, Friday night's game is being billed as an Origin audition, and while it's not unrealistic Hodkinson could end up paired with Pearce against Queensland on May 27, a huge showing from the Dogs halves could be enough to convince Daley to stick solid.
Hodkinson frankly admitted he wasn't happy with his form so far in 2015 and did not believe his incumbency entitled him to first crack at the sky blue No.7 jersey.
"[My form] hasn't been the best, I'm the first to admit that," he said.
"It's been below par compared to last year... I've got to go out there Friday and have a solid game."
He said the return of Reynolds from a one-game suspension for a tripping charge he picked up playing for City against Country would help.
"It's been a bit interrupted, the combination, even the team [overall] with suspension and injuries [but] that's no excuse. I've got to get my game back on target.
"I've got to get more involved, I've been a bit hesitant at times. I've got to go with my first instincts. I've held back a little bit. That's the main thing."
He said an interrupted pre-season and a late start to training due to a knee injury picked up against Manly in last year's finals series hadn't helped.
"I came back with the boys in February, a couple of weeks before trials. I know pre-season definitely helped last year, having that full one for the first time in a while. I could name a few excuses but at the end of the day I need to get back to where I was last year."
Hodkinson was tight-lipped about exactly what had been spoken about between himself and Daley this year other than they had had "a good little chat" at the recent True Blues dinner. "We spoke a little bit, I don't want to get too much into it," he said.
It sounds like that chat didn't contain an iron-clad guarantee for Hodkinson though, who said he is "not necessarily" expecting to be picked for Origin I.
"You've got to be playing good footy leading into it and pick the form players," he said.
"I know if I do get picked I'll step up. You surround yourself with some good players in camp and they just lift you naturally. If I do get picked I'll be pumped and can't wait but I'll have to see what happens."