Lockyer's advice convinces Hodges to retire
The advice of two Broncos legends convinced Justin Hodges that it was better to leave the game a year too early than a year too late.
Hodges announced on Monday morning that this would be his 16th and final season in the NRL with a farewell premiership with the Broncos the tantalising carrot now dangling in front of him a month out from the finals.
Five games shy of his 250th NRL appearance and with 13 Tests for Australia and 24 Origin games for Queensland on his resume, Hodges said it was the advice of Broncos great Darren Lockyer that convinced him to call time on a wonderful career at season's end.
"I had a chat with 'Locky'. I just asked him when he thought the time was right and how he made the decision and how he felt so I got some great advice from him," Hodges said in a packed room at Broncos Leagues Club that included his mother and father, wife Gyanne Watson and young son Carter.
"He's a guy that I've always looked up to and always asked for advice and he's always helped me along in my playing career so talking to him was probably the turning point of making my decision and making it easier.
"I spoke to my family probably a week or two ago so I made a decision sort of back then. I held onto it because I kept thinking about changing my mind as you do, you always want to play this game forever and especially at this club. It's a club that I love dearly and it's given me so much you always want to give everything for this club and you want to play forever but I think I'd be doing it an injustice if I kept playing and not giving it the 110 per cent that I've always tried to do.
"I think it's always better to go one year early than one year too long. The body's had enough, the mind is starting to slow up.
"Some days it gets hard to get yourself up to come to training and all that type of stuff and I knew once I felt like that time was up.
"I love coming playing football and I love coming to training with my mates and having fun but I knew the time was right."
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was one of the first people Hodges spoke to about retiring a year before his contract was due to expire and hailed the man he once dropped for signing with the Roosters as one of the game's greatest centres.
"We just had an honest conversation with each other and I told him where I thought his career was at and what my thoughts were about that," Bennett said.
"Your biggest fear as a coach is that you don't want your champions to play a year too long and it all goes pear-shaped on them and they find themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons week after week.
"He's been remarkable with the injuries alone that he's had to overcome. Knee reconstructions, Achilles, shoulders, he's had them all and he's continued to compete at the highest level for a long period of time.
"But we could see at training and things like that that his time was coming to an end and it was a matter of just everybody getting on the same page and him feeling comfortable with that.
"He's up there with all those wonderful centres for Queensland, Australia, he's in that category. Mal Meninga, Gene Miles, those blokes, Steve Renoouf, different player to all those people."
Having played his entire career not wanting to let his teammates down, Hodges' final gift to the Broncos was another selfless one as his decision will more than likely free up enough space in the salary cap to retain the services of highly-rated outside back Jordan Kahu.
Brisbane CEO Paul White was adamant that Hodges had earned the right to choose when he retired but the 33-year-old admitted that he didn't want the likes of Kahu and Dale Copley to miss out on the same opportunity he was gifted as a 17-year-old back in 2000.
"I've had a great run and for me it's time to move on," said Hodges, who is just one try shy of his 100th in the NRL.
"We've got so many wonderful players here and I don't want to stand in the way of their dreams.
"I've had a pretty good run and there are so many wonderful players here with Jordy Kahu and Dale Copley and all those guys, and I don't want to stand in the way of them and of the club from bringing those young guys up as well.
"I look forward to helping those guys hopefully reaching their goals and going on to bigger and better things."
Junior Club: Cairns Kangaroos
NRL games: 245* (177 for Broncos; 58 for Roosters)
Points: 398* (99 tries, 1 goal)
NRL debut: Round 14, 2000 v Canberra Raiders
Awards: 2007 Dally M Centre of the Year