Bennett's tribute to departing skipper
He was back in his element on Friday night at the 28th Broncos Presentation Ball and coach Wayne Bennett took the opportunity to give departing skipper Justin Hodges a final farewell, and a few light-hearted digs.
Hodges wasn't the only player to be singled out with fellow retiree David Stagg and UK-bound Mitchell Dodds also receiving kind words from the master coach and Corey Parker and Jack Reed acknowledged for individual milestones.
Despite the success of the team in 2015 there was something of a sombre note to proceedings coming just five days after their heartbreaking grand final defeat at the hands of the Cowboys but Bennett had the large crowd in the palm of his hand whenever he spoke.
"The one question that you don't have to ask me tonight is whether I'm happy to be back. I am," was how he opened.
On stage before the Broncos faithful is where Bennett belongs and the highlight of the evening was his tribute to Hodges, the man he dropped to reserve grade 14 years ago when he announced he was heading to the Roosters.
Hodges came back three years later and after time at the Dragons and the Knights so too did Bennett and said he had no hesitation in making the Queensland and Australia representative captain of the club.
"There are so many things that I admire about rugby league and there are so many things that it gives us and I believe without rugby league, I'm not sure where Justin would have been or what he would be," Bennett said.
"I saw that transformation from the year 2000 to the year 2015 where I have spent a lot of my life with him; many, many training sessions and many situations over that long period of time and to see that transformation in him has been quite remarkable.
"I wouldn't have made him captain of the Broncos if he hadn't made that journey but I didn't have a lot of doubt about him being captain.
"I've been very particular all my coaching career about who gets to captain this club. It's been a bone of contention for me, I've just wanted the right person to do that and he stepped up this year and did a great job.
"You may have read about the phone call last year at the grand final. He was in Sydney and saw the game and said he wanted to go back. He rang me that night from the ground to tell me that he wanted to go back there and take the team back there.
"Well he lived that; he lived that all year for us."
The great charm of the relationship between Bennett and Hodges lies in their differing personalities. Where the coach is a disciple of discipline, the star centre – who was also named Clubman of the Year – developed a reputation for dodging certain training sessions.
"I remember it like it was yesterday when he played his first game in Canberra," Bennett recalled. "It was State of Origin time and we had a lot of players missing and I gave him an opportunity to play.
"I quickly realised that cold weather wasn't his forte. It just didn't grab him at all and if I hadn't of played him it wouldn't have worried him.
"On my return this year I realised there had been a change of attitude with him. On my first day back I saw him getting changed and on his biceps he had little bubbles and I thought, Hello, he's bought into the weight room a little bit.
"He was starting to fill out in the chest a bit and I thought, God, he must have been lifting something. He didn't like the training part, he hated the weight room most of all.
"But the calf muscles haven't changed. They're still the same size.
"Why it's been a pleasure to coach him is that while he gives you a lot of grief off the field, on the field he gave it all.
"His ethos was that you can bugger up through the week and he mightn't be the best trainer in the world but come Saturday or Sunday when he crossed that white line he gave you 100 per cent.
"And he did that for his teammates because the one thing he always hated was letting his mates down."