Justin Hodges celebrates during his final Origin appearance.

Heartache behind Hodges swansong

Rather than basking in the Maroons' record-breaking victory Justin Hodges will travel to Cairns on Thursday to attend the funeral of his beloved Aunty Cheryl who passed away in the days leading up to Origin III.

Behind the mask of the jovial prankster Hodges was hiding a personal pain in the days leading up to his Origin swansong after Aunty Cheryl passed away last Friday, her last wish for her Queensland team to win another series.

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As the national anthem wound down and before the Maroons put on a record-breaking performance Hodges looked to the heavens, said a prayer and put on a performance Aunty Cheryl would have been proud of.

"My aunty passed away last Friday, she was my closest aunty," Hodges said in the sheds after the 52-6 hiding. "I'm heading up to Cairns tomorrow for her funeral so I just said a prayer.

"Before she passed she wanted us to win the game so I just wanted to make sure she was there with me in spirit.

"It was very tough but having the support of the boys, they all knew what it was and 'GI' (Greg Inglis) knew mostly.

"It was a tough week and I'm glad it's over now and I get to head up with the family and show my respects.

"She always had a big part... she was always like our second mother. It is a sad moment but she'll be looking down smiling.

"That's all she wanted, for us to win, so happy we got her that."

 

With a dropped ball from his first touch in his final Origin game it was hardly the ideal start for the 33-year-old but as the oldest player on the field Corey Parker went about winning the Man of the Series award, Hodges showed his own moments of brilliance.

His tap back from beyond the dead-ball line for Matt Gillett's try was straight from the Greg Inglis playbook and his shuffling dummy-half runs that have become such a trademark continually troubled the Blues' defence.

But despite the euphoria of the moment and having been given the chance to lift the State of Origin shield aloft, Hodges was in no doubt he had made the right decision to retire from representative football.

"I was just trying to do something like 'GI' does all the time," he said of his less than conventional try assist. "He seems to make it look so easy and it worked out. It's a special play, GI did the same thing. That guy's done some incredible things so I just tried to get one up on him.

 

 

"To leave on those terms, the way the game was, and to win at home in front of family and friends and all of Queensland, there's no point coming back and risking it.

"This is the best. I would have liked to have got a try but it didn't happen but to win like that against a quality side is unbelievable.

"I'm going to miss playing heaps but hopefully I can be the bus driver or maybe Alf's assistant or something next year and still be involved with the boys."

Judging by the value coach Mal Meninga places on Hodges' role in keeping the Queensland camp a happy one, there is sure to be a spot as an assistant of some description waiting for him next year.

"We're going to miss him. Apart from being an extraordinary player who loves to put on the Maroons jersey he's one of our leaders," said Meninga.

"He's got that natural aggressive streak in him which I think you need to have at Origin level but he's one of our characters too. He's got this great sense of fun about him and you talk to any of our players about our camps and you've got to have fun.

"He's got that sense of fun that keeps everyone relaxed. We know the enormity of the game, it's 1-all, it's a decider, but people like him bring smiles to our faces.

"He's quick-witted and gives it to people so we're going to miss him."