Blues halves ready to go: Hodkinson
NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson says he and new Blues five-eighth Mitchell Pearce have combined well, while his own flagging confidence came flooding back as soon as he entered the NSW camp.
Shortly before the Blues side was named Hodkinson admitted his form has been "below par" in 2015 but also guaranteed that, if given the chance, he would step up for NSW.
Sitting down with NRL.com after the Blues' final Coffs Harbour training session on Sunday, Hodkinson praised Pearce's contribution to the week and said his own confidence had been immediately boosted by being part of the Origin set up again.
"[My confidence] is right where it left off last year, it was right back there from day one," Hodkinson said.
"My form hasn't been great but I know I'll be able to do my job for the team, I've spoken to Laurie [Daley] with what I've got to do for the team and lead the boys around and stay calm.
"It can get quite frantic in Origin. I'm very excited and all the players are so I've got to keep the boys calm and do my job."
Hodkinson and Pearce have never played alongside each other before despite both making junior rep sides and being the same age – 26. Pearce played Australian Schoolboys, Hodkinson Junior Kangaroos, and each has represented City Origin and NSW – but as halfbacks, never in the same team before now.
"No never, I've never played with 'Pearcey', we were always sort of competing against each other in the same position so that will be good [to play alongside each other for a change]," Hodkinson said.
"We did [gel pretty quickly], it was pretty good from day one, we spoke just before the first session and 'Loz' [Daley] has made it clear what we need to do for the team."
From having spent such a long time as rivals, Hodkinson said he has been impressed by the improvement in Pearce as a player and his overall maturity over the past 12 months.
"He copped a bit of flak in the past with Origin and what not but he's stuck it out and it's a credit to him hanging in there and working hard on his game and taking it to new heights. He's been playing really well this year, good footy, and I'm sure he'll take that into Origin."
While Hodkinson is expected to marshal the Blues' left edge as he did last year and Pearce the right as he does at club level, the halfback said it won't necessarily be that structured on Wednesday night.
"Not necessarily; we're two different types of players so we can both bring our individual game to the team. We've been combining pretty well and the structure allows us to roam around and have that free run," he said.
"We're mixing it up [between left and right and first and second receiver] which is good. We'll start there and we've got free range to roam and what not."
Like Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds did last year, Hodkinson and Pearce were effectively given the reins in camp, addressing the side before training sessions and letting the players know what they wanted in terms of team structures.
"We did it from early on in the week; we had to let the team know what kind of structures we were running. Loz has got us up to speak to the group each day which has been good."
One of Hodkinson's great strengths – and one that helped him fight his way into the Origin team last year – is a calmness under pressure, and he said it was that trait Daley was expecting him to bring to the side in the series opener.
"Yeah, that will be my job to keep things calm and relaxed and obviously sticking to the game plan. It can get quite frantic out there. My job is just to keep everyone calm and I think my game naturally is like that so that's what I've got to do."
He also dismissed concerns over his goal-kicking, which after 10 games had him as the lowest percentage of all first-choice kickers at just under 70 per cent, saying after a few sessions with Kiwi goal-kicking ace Daryl Halligan he is striking them well.
Hodkinson, 26, said he struck them well in the final session at Coffs Harbour on Sunday and would have another practice run with Halligan at the captain's run on Tuesday. "We'll knock a few over and it's looking good," he said.
Just before that captain's run, Blues skipper Robbie Farah also praised the way the halves had come together during the week, and in particular the way Pearce had slotted back in after a year out of the arena.
"I've seen Mitch grow as a person and a player in the past 18 months," Farah said.
"He's really become a leader at the Roosters and now you see it in here as well. I haven't had to say too much to him. I know he's ready for a big game and excited for tomorrow night.
"There's been a lot of scrutiny on him and the past and a lot of that's unfair I think so I hope everyone can just get off his back and let him play tomorrow night because we know how good he can be for NSW."
Daley also seemed happy with both halves in his press conference on Monday.
"Mitch has been good – we just want Mitch to do his job," Daley said.
"Every player has got a role to play and we need them to do that as best they possibly can and if they do that we'll give a good account of ourselves.
"He's been great [at five-eighth], I think he brings a lot of experience and he brings a good kicking game. He's enthusiastic. He wants to play well for the team and his teammates.
"He's excited to be back and I think he's just a guy that's really at ease with himself. I don't think he's putting too much expectation on himself, we haven't placed any expectation on Mitch, we just want him to do his job for the team. If he does that I'll be extremely happy."
Daley also said he "couldn't have asked for anything more" from Hodkinson throughout the week.
"Trent's a guy that if you haven't worked with him before you don't know the qualities he brings to a footy team but when you've worked with him you know he can add and he adds value.
"He's calm, he's got great composure, the boys respect him and when he tells them to do something they do it. He's a leader and he's someone that at important times in a game commands respect and the boys will follow his lead."