Justin Hodges in his final game for the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.

Old-school mentality, cross-generational star

He may not be referred to as a once-in-a-generation player but as his 16-year career has progressed Broncos captain Justin Hodges has endeavoured to be a player who can be cross-generational.

 

Hodges will lead the Broncos onto Suncorp Stadium for the final time in a regular-season game on Thursday night against the Storm but his pre-match routine will be the same as it has been for more than a decade.

Between having a punt on the horses and playing video games on the PlayStation, Hodges' preparation very much embodies the man who grew up with an old-school mentality to playing footy yet has remained relevant in the modern game.

He mixes valued leadership and intense competitiveness with a cheekiness that lightens the mood in the playing group which is so valuable across an arduous season that for the top teams can span as long as 11 months.

As captain this season Hodges has played a pivotal role in bringing new recruits and young players together for one final premiership push and says their unity is a big reason they have turned their fortunes around so quickly.

"As an older bloke you look back and there are a lot of younger guys in the team and you see how close they are and you have to try and find yourself in them as well," Hodges said.

"The last couple of years we struggled to make the eight, we struggled here and there but it's made us stronger as a group. A lot of guys are having babies and the amount of love and respect there is is showing on the footy field.

"I try and hang around the youngest ones as possible. As a leader of the club you have to make sure you're mixing with the younger blokes and making sure they know that you're there for them through the good times and the bad times.

"In games you're going to need those guys and you've got to make sure you're on a good level with them."

Having made his NRL debut for the Broncos in 2000, Hodges spent three years at the Roosters from 2002-04 before coming home to Brisbane.

When he arrived there was an excitable 19-year-old who had played nine NRL games eager to meet him and who has spent the past decade playing alongside Hodges for the Broncos, Queensland and Australia.

"The first time I officially met 'Hodgo' was at the Gold Coast Indy actually," Sam Thaiday recalled. "He'd just signed to come back up here and I was looking forward to the opportunity of playing with him and I pretty much followed him around like a puppy dog all that weekend.

"Once we got to training and playing together I just knew he was a very talented player.

"I'd played against him and I hated playing against him because he was tough, aggressive, strong, could step me very easily and now we've played many games together and been away on tours together and he'll be very missed here at the Broncos."

The 33-year-old signed off from Origin in Queensland's record-breaking Game Three victory in July and a short time later announced that the 2015 season would be his last despite having a year still to run on his contract.

Hodges was dropped by Wayne Bennett in 2001 when it was revealed he had signed with the Roosters for the following season and the master coach said on the eve of the game that his career could have turned out very differently had he stayed.

"I thought he was going to be a fullback actually but he ended being a centre at the Roosters and they put him there for three years and that worked great for him," Bennett said.

"He's in that top category of players; when you're picking best ever centres he's going to be in the mix.

"He was always at his best when he went across the line to play football. Not to train or anything else, he was always at his best then and there was just that part of him that didn't like letting his mates down.

"He was embarrassed when he didn't play well for them and with them and that was probably his major motivator."

Whether he's cheering on a horse, trying to score a goal in FIFA or attempting to kick a ball into a bin in the Broncos' pre-game ritual, Hodges refuses to be beaten and Thaiday conceded it is a trait the rest of the Broncos will need to take up when he walks away.

"Even if we're doing a simple drill or playing games at training, it's always so competitive with Hodgo," said Thaiday.

"Hopefully we can continue that competitive nature because it just helps you out so much on the field when you're always competing in everything you do.

"Hopefully we don't lose that as a team when he's not here next year."

Video first featured on broncos.com.au