Jovial Hodges primed for Origin swansong
He began his Origin career as the butt of the joke and Justin Hodges insists his relaxed nature will continue in the build-up to his final appearance for Queensland, right up until he steps onto the field.
An Origin career punctuated by injury and which could have stalled after a horror debut in Game Two, 2002 reaches its conclusion in one of the most anticipated climaxes to an interstate series in the game's history.
It will be the 23rd occasion Hodges has represented his state but it wasn't until 2011 that he played in a decider, going on to score tries in Game Three in both 2012 and 2013 as the Maroons' winning streak extended to eight.
Self-appointed chief for keeping the mood light amidst the intensity of an Origin camp, Hodges insisted every member of the squad – including coaching, medical and media staff – plunged into the chilly depths of the Sanctuary Cove pool early on Sunday morning, dragging good mate Johnathan Thurston in with him as he went.
His retirement from the representative area is the latest domino to fall in the great Queensland team of the past decade but the 33-year-old said he won't let the moment get to him until he runs out onto Suncorp Stadium in front of what is likely to be a record crowd.
"Once I start walking towards the door then I get ready," Hodges said.
"For me I've never tried to prepare too early, if I do that then I have a bad game. I know how to prepare and if I be too serious and I'm not being myself and mucking around and all that type of stuff then I know I'm in for a bad game.
"I've got to make sure that I'm preparing right and make sure I'm still the same bloke, having a laugh just before we walk out and then once we cross that white line be ready to go.
"For me it's a long journey coming to an end but I'm going to have my son there and it's going to be even more special. When the anthem's playing I'm going to be looking for him and hopefully I don't have a tear.
"It's going to be special and just to run out there for the last time in that jersey especially at Suncorp in front of all our fans. It's going to be outstanding, I can't wait for it."
Averse to spending more time in the weights room than is necessary, Hodges has become renowned for finding ways to get out of training, something coach Mal Meninga shrugs off as being "a centre thing".
He plumbed new depths when he cut his foot while riding a bike that hindered his preparation for Game One but has changed considerably over the past decade according to Maroons teammates.
"I have been involved since 2006 and he has certainly come a long way," said Jacob Lillyman. "I can remember back then with my first involvement with them and guys like him would never stretch.
"But you see him now... Obviously due to necessity [he has changed] but his professionalism has certainly come along in leaps and bounds and that has probably helped him over the last few years of his career.
"He's been a great stalwart and hopefully we can send him out a winner."
The most prolific dummy-half runner in Origin history knows that his body couldn't face another Origin series, a realisation he came to when he tried to pick himself up after last year's defeat to the Blues.
He said in December that returning the Origin shield to Queensland would be the perfect way to end his representative career but has seen enough over the past 16 seasons to know that rugby league fairytales don't always have a happy ending.
"It's probably the hardest thing to do, end on a fairytale," Hodges said. "We're coming up against a great side, Laurie (Daley, Blues coach) has picked a great side and the first two games have been tough and this one's going to be even tougher.
"Every year is draining and by the end of it you're just knackered and you've got to pick yourself up off the couch to go to training again and get up for another game... I sort of knew last year and this year is going to be a great time to go out.
"It's something that I've thought about in the off-season as well and the pre-season and I'm happy with my decision.
"I just want the lads not to worry about me and to try to get the result for me. I just want them to go out and play the best way they can and whatever is meant to be is meant to be."