Hodges' first steps towards NRL coaching job
Justin Hodges is a man on a mission. The former Brisbane Broncos star wants to be head coach of that club one day, but first things first.
Hodges is the coach of the Queensland under 20s side and is in camp with the squad at the Emerging Origin camp in Brisbane as the next generation of Maroons are introduced to the Queensland way.
But something has been eating away at Hodges for the past eight months.
Each year since 2012 the NSW and Queensland under 20s sides have played a one-off clash, now a curtain raiser to State of Origin, for the Darren Lockyer Shield.
But the Queenslanders are yet to win and Hodges, who coached the under 20s last year to a 30-16 loss, is determined that this can be the breakthrough season.
"We had a good vibe last year but we just fell short, so our main goal - and it has been eating away at me since May of last year - is to win our first under 20s clash and hopefully we can achieve it this year," Hodges told NRL.com.
Over the last six years, the Queensland under 20 side has featured the lines of Dylan Napa, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford and Coen Hess.
Hodges said "values" and "culture" were the keys to the success of the Maroons' State of Origin side when he played in it, and that same ethos was reinforced to the under 20s in his care.
Hodges has former Queensland players Lote Tuqiri and Scott Prince on deck as assistant coaches to aid him with that goal.
"We let them know what it is like to be in an Origin system, and that the reason we are so successful in State of Origin is because we buy into what the team creates and the environment we have," Hodges said.
"We have the right guys around them to teach them, like Lote Tuqiri and Scotty Prince, who both played Origin themselves.
"Lote was a great outside back and Princey was a good five-eighth/halfback so it is great to have them in camp and teaching the guys about the Queensland way, about how we never give up and always put in for our mate."
Hodges wants to be a career coach but said he had a lot to learn before that becomes a reality.
"One day I'd like to be a head NRL coach and it would be everyone's dream to coach the Broncos. Personally, I would love to, but I am in no rush," Hodges said.
"Whoever takes over after Wayne [Bennett], whether that be Kevvie Walters or someone else, hopefully I can learn off him and one day when I am ready, get a shot at it.
"I am in my mid-30s and that is too early to be a head coach. I'd rather just bide my time and learn as much as I can from good coaches and hopefully when I am ready to take the next step there is an opportunity for me.
"At the moment though, this role with the 20s is unbelievable."
This year's Queensland squad has 10 players in it who lost to the young NSW outfit last year.
It includes some familiar names with Tristan Sailor and Lachlan Lam, the sons of former Maroons greats Wendell Sailor and Adrian Lam.
Cowboys rising star Enari Tuala is also on board, as is highly regarded Titans half AJ Brimson.