Hodges gets his own fairytale
As Johnathan Thurston and his Cowboys crew rode off into the sunset with the Provan- Summons trophy as 2015 premiers, retiring Broncos skipper Justin Hodges was happy to achieve a fairytale of his own even before his team's 17-16 golden point loss to North Queensland.
Able to retire on his terms after 251 NRL games, 24 State of Origins for Queensland and 13 Tests for Australia as well as two premiership wins with the Roosters in 2002 and his beloved Broncos in 2006, Hodges was satisfied he was able to help steer the club to another grand final appearance.
Named sole captain upon coach Wayne Bennett's return to the club this season Hodges had to overcome injury concerns as well as a suspension scare in the lead-up to the decider to be able to run his team out in front of an 82,000-strong ANZ Stadium crowd.
But he wouldn't have had it any other way.
"When you play for the Broncos you put everything in. There are so many great players that have come before us who put their bodies on the line," Hodges said post-game.
"We didn't get the result we wanted but in my eyes it was never about winning a grand final. It was about getting here and if it happened it happened but I couldn't be prouder of my boys.
"They're probably the best bunch of men I've played football with. We didn't get the result but my dream was to get back here and I got back here all thanks to my mates and that's all I could ask of them. I couldn't be happier with them."
Bennett echoed Hodges's desire to return to the NRL Telstra Premiership grand final.
"Justin wasn't looking for a fairytale, he wanted to win a grand final here and that is a fairytale," Bennett said.
"He's finishing his career on the best night of the year, the grand final. You don't have to win [for it to be a success] and his team couldn't have done any more for him."
On fairytales, Hodges was glad to see his Queensland and Australian teammate Thurston finally lead the Cowboys to grand final glory after a decade at the helm – though said a premiership win wasn't a necessity in the grand scheme of Thurston's illustrious career.
"[Johnathan's] proven that time and time again. His legacy in my eyes is as one of the greatest players to ever play our game; he's up there with the greats," Hodges said.
"I'm happy for Thursto. He's led a side and the whole of Townsville on his back and he's got a lot of great players around him to get them where they are but I couldn't be happier for him."
On his career coming to a close, Hodges said he's glad to be able to close this chapter of his life.
"I'm glad it's over; I don't have to sit here no more. I can have public holidays," he laughed in front a packed press conference.
"I'm doing fine but my boys are doing it hard. They're only going to learn from it because they're a good young side and they'll bounce back."
Match report: Thurston kicks Cowboys to premiership
NRL Grand Final: Five key points
Cowboys player ratings
Broncos player ratings
Magic Moment: Feldt's late, late try
Magic Moment: Thurston wins it
WATCH: Winning skippers' speech
WATCH: Hodges' post-game speech