Hodges: Grand final highs and lows
It's impossible to come to grand final week and not reflect on your own history on the game's greatest day. I was fortunate enough in my career to win two premierships; I also went through the disappointment of losing two and I got to share the joy of victory with one of my closest mates as a friend.
These are my greatest memories from my grand final experiences.
2002 – Sydney Roosters 30 def. Warriors 8
The moment that changed this game was when Richard Villasanti came through and hit Brad Fittler in the head and split him open while he was lying on the ground. There was only a few points in it at that stage and we were getting run off our feet so that was a massive play in the game. Guys like Adrian Morley, Craig Fitzgibbon, Luke Ricketson, Mick Crocker, Jason Cayless and Peter Cusack really took offence to that and really revved us up. If that play didn't happen the game could have gone a different way and I believe was the reason we won. 'Moz' was coming out of the line whacking blokes and putting people on their bums and really got everyone else fired up. Moz was unbelievable to play with, he'd whack guys and intimidate guys and was a guy that always put his body on the line but off the field he was a gentle giant.
2004 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 def. Sydney Roosters 13
If I'm being honest, you tend not to remember too much from the losses but what I do remember is the Bulldogs getting the momentum late in the game and held on, which is what grand finals are all about. I guess the thing that hurts the most was that that was the third grand final in a row that we'd been in but we only won one of them. I missed 2003 against the Panthers due to my knee injury but we just couldn't get across the line, and that can happen in footy. If Toddy Byrne scores that try against Penrith and Scott Sattler doesn't make that tackle we probably go on and win that one. Those big plays in big games really do make the difference and the Panthers and Bulldogs both came up with the big plays when they needed them.
2006 – Brisbane Broncos 15 def. Melbourne Storm 8
When we lost five games in a row late in the season a lot of people were writing us off and we used that as motivation. We knew we had a good side and that if we made the finals we were a good chance of beating any team on our day. We didn't come out and say it publicly but Shane Webcke retiring was a big factor and we knew as a group that we wanted to send one of the legends of the game the way he deserved to go out, with a premiership. The burning desire was always there coming into the final weeks and into the semis to give 'Webby' the send-off he deserved.
2015 – North Queensland Cowboys 17 def. Brisbane Broncos 16
It may seem strange to people on the outside but I don't have really negative feelings towards last year and how my last game in the NRL played out. Obviously it would have been nice to go out with a premiership but it was really all about getting back there. It had been nine years since we'd been in a grand final and in many ways it had been nine years wasted. The real nerves probably come in the preliminary final because you are one game away from the big dance and a lot of things go through your mind. Falling short, getting injured, getting suspended, all these things can get to you mentally because you know what it means to be there on grand final day. I couldn't have been more proud of the boys getting me back to the big stage one more time and for me that was enough. If anything, the thing that I was most disappointed about was that the boys didn't get to experience what it was like to win a grand final. I do hope that they get that opportunity in the next couple of years.
2014 – South Sydney Rabbitohs 30 def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6
Obviously I wasn't involved as a player but being there with my good mate Greg Inglis in the sheds after the Rabbitohs won gave me the motivation to get back there the following year. Greg and I are close and our families are close and once Souths made the grand final my wife asked me whether we were going to go to support Greg. Souths hadn't been in a grand final for a long time and I knew what it meant to him and he wanted me to be there so there was no way I was going to let him down on the biggest day of all. I was very thankful that he wanted me and my family to be part of something very special for him and his family. The atmosphere was great and when I got down in the sheds after the game I could see the relief on his face. A lot of pressure got put on his shoulders when he signed with Souths because Russell Crowe and everyone knew what he could do so it was just good to see him get the reward because I knew how hard he'd worked and how much he wanted to bring a trophy back to South Sydney.
2016 – Melbourne Storm v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Melbourne are so well drilled and so hard to beat but I'm going to tip the Sharks to break their drought. To do that the Sharks have to play the perfect game of football which means guys like Mick Ennis, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and James Maloney can't afford to give away those silly penalties. They need to get the balance right of playing that aggressive style that has worked so well for them but remain disciplined. Paul Gallen can't tell them to calm down and take away their style of playing but as individuals they have to make sure they don't overstep the boundaries and cost their team. If I was 'Gal', I'd be telling them to play their natural game, play aggressive but to be smart and stay within the boundaries. That's something the Sharks will have to get right if they're going to win this grand final.
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.