Justin Hodges would sign Wests Tigers star James Tedesco as fullback if he was building a new team.

Hodges: Seven players I'd sign for 2018

With constant speculation in the media regarding players signing at clubs and tens of thousands of people playing NRL Fantasy each and every week, building an NRL team from the ground up is something all footy fans think about from time to time.

This year I'm working as an assistant coach with the Brisbane Broncos under-20s as well as coaching the Queensland under-20s team and coaching is something that I am very keen to pursue now that I've retired from playing.

But if I was handed the reins to an NRL club for the 2018 season, who would be the first seven players I'd sign assuming that every player in the NRL is off-contract at the end of this season?

I'd start my recruitment with the halves because they are the two players you can build a team around and my first two choices would be Anthony Milford from the Broncos and Brodie Croft from the Storm.

The Panthers, Wests Tigers and Titans all have young halves at present and while it is a bit of a gamble they're the guys you want to build your club around and then add the right guys and coaching staff around them. 

'Milf' plays his 100th game in the NRL on Thursday night and to be honest I don't think he's scratched the surface of how good he can be. When he came into the NRL at such a young age we watched him develop and when you played against the Raiders when he was down there it was always about what Milford would be doing. That shows you how much respect other coaches and players had for him and with the right people around him he can develop into a superstar of our game.

I've seen Brodie play a few times and seen him around camp with the Queensland under-20s side and the way he trains and the way he plays is very similar to Cooper Cronk. He's had a great teacher at Melbourne and everything he's learned off Cooper is only going to get better the more games he plays. He'd be a great young guy to have at your club.

The next player I'd sign would be Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco. In my eyes he's been the best fullback the past couple of seasons and he's only going to get better.

I'd have him alongside Darius Boyd as the best fullbacks in the game at the moment and it's his strength that makes him such a dangerous runner of the ball.

He might look skinny and small but he's strong for his size. Guys will try to wrap him up around the ball and he'll bump away or wrestle free of the tackle with his natural strength that can break tackles.

 


Of course, the playmakers are only as good as the forwards they have laying the foundation and the three big men I'd target would be Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa.

Dylan is only young but he's strong and powerful and intimidating for opposition players. He ripped into the South Sydney pack in a game last year and almost beat them on his own and I've got no doubt his best football is still ahead of him.

I believe Jesse has been the best forward in the game for the past five or six years. Everyone talks about the 'Big Three' at Melbourne but that guy really gets their sets started and gets them on the front foot.

He goes about his work pretty quietly but everyone knows how dangerous he can be.

Once you have those guys on the books you've then got to look for a hooker who can bring it all together and the bloke I'd sign would be Nathan Peats from the Titans.

Obviously Cameron Smith is still the best hooker playing the game now but 'Smithy' is getting on a bit and I've liked what I've seen of 'Peatsy' in camp with the Indigenous All Stars over the past few years.

He talks well, he knows football games and he's a smart little hooker so having him there gives you a little bit more stability with the young halves. Having an older head that has been around for a little bit can take a bit of the pressure off some of those younger guys.

So that's my wishlist; all I need now is for someone to explain the salary cap to me.

Final thought

Coaching is something that I am very passionate about and not even the treatment of Jason Taylor and Des Hasler the past week or so will change that.

I've been through it as a player where if you're not playing well the spotlight gets turned on you but at the end of the day it's a business and everyone is driven by success, especially at the top level.

No one cares about coming second, making top four or making top eight, it's about success and bringing those young players in for the future and developing their skills so that you're always competing.

Seeing young guys become not only become better players but better people is the most rewarding part of coaching and as long as I can help them on the right path the it's something I'm keen to keep doing.

Hodgo's Round 5 tips