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Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson.

Josh Hodgson took advice from Danny Buderus and studied the way Cameron Smith plays before he joined the NRL but the Raiders hooker may have developed his game management skills while coaching players who were years older than him in England.

Hodgson, who is now being compared to Buderus, Smith and Canberra's former Hall of Fame hooker Steve Walters, played his junior football under Hull FC mentor Lee Radford and then helped him to coach the East Hull first-grade team.

"I was playing at Hull at the time and got asked to coach East Hull under 8s," Radford said. "Josh was the captain and I coached him right up to under 16s when he signed with Hull FC.

"I went on to coach East Hull first-grade team and Josh became my assistant coach. He has always had a smart footy brain."

Radford also observed other traits in Hodgson from an early age that would later be noted by those who worked with him in the Super League and NRL, including former Hull KR mentor Justin Morgan and second-rower Clint Newton.

"He wasn’t the biggest guy but his work ethic was something that allowed you to draw closer to him," said Newton, who is now RLPA general manager of stakeholder relations.

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"I wouldn’t have got him to go and meet with Danny Buderus when I started playing with him if I didn’t think he was a good student."

Newton organised for the then Hull KR rookie to meet Buderus, whose illustrious career was winding down at Leeds in 2010, while Morgan gave him footage of Smith to study.

Morgan had signed Hodgson from Hull FC, where he was earning just £10,000 per year as the club’s fourth-choice hooker. The move required Hull KR paying a £15,000 transfer fee as well as an upgrade in Hodgson’s contract.

"He was always a tough kid but he lacked a little bit of that finesse, a little bit of deception at dummy half and I remember showing him some clips of Cameron Smith, and saying, ‘Watch this bloke. He goes all right. Watch how he gets out of dummy half and plays with different tempo and stuff’," Morgan said.

"That’s the kind of guy he is, he will go and learn from other players."

Those who have been involved with the development of Hodgson and Canberra's other Englishmen - John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Ryan Sutton - point out how they enjoy watching rugby league unlike many modern-day players and therefore understand the game.

Passing skills like Lee Jackson

Newton said the first thing he noticed about Hodgson was his ability to pass from the ground on both sides of the ruck with speed, width and accuracy, which creates more options in attack and gives the first receiver more time.  

"I actually liken his passing in many ways to [former Knights hooker] Lee Jackson," Newton said.

Former Knight Lee Jackson played 17 Tests for England and 4 for GB.
Former Knight Lee Jackson played 17 Tests for England and 4 for GB.

"He was one of the best English hookers in his day and what I always remember about Lee was his ability to pass the ball off the ground both sides.

"Josh could do that just about better than any other hooker I had played with, and I played with some of the very best [including Buderus at Newcastle and Smith at Melbourne].

"I don’t think there is a hooker in the game that has the width he has with the accuracy."

Radford attributes Hodgson’s passing skills to the training he did while playing juniors for East Hull.

"Some of that is self-taught. Whenever there were extras to be done that is what he was doing, his dummy half passing," Radford said. "His speed of ball to hand is as good as anyone either here or in the NRL.

"It is funny to see how his game has developed and how he is man-managing games. I think the ruck tempo in the NRL is suited to the way Josh plays and I messaged him last Sunday, and said ‘it is not bad for a little toe rag from Bilton Grange to be playing in an NRL grand final’."

Wrong side of the river

Former England coach and fellow Bilton boy Steve McNamara grew up in the same street as Hodgson, who lived in a variety of housing estates as one of six boys raised by his mum Nicci and father Dave, who played for Hull FC.

Crossing the river to play for Hull KR was something few players did a decade ago but Hodgson, who played in the 2009 England Academy team alongside the likes of Liam Farrell, Kallum Watkins and Jonny Lomax, was determined to fulfil his dream of playing Super League.

He went on to play 134 matches for Hull KR and made his Test debut in 2014.

"When I first picked him for England there was a lot of competition for the hooking spot at the time but there was just something about Josh and what stood out for me was his vision, his smartness and decision making," said McNamara, who is now coaching Catalans.

"I don’t like to make comparisons but he had that intelligence, that game awareness and that smartness like Cameron Smith. There was never any doubt in my mind that he could achieve what he has in Australia."

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First-class second-rowers

McNamara has also coached Whitehead and Bateman at club and Test level, with the latter being his last signing as coach of Bradford.

"We identified John when he was 14 years old and there was huge competition for his signature at the time so we spent a bit of time meeting his family and getting to know him," McNamara said.

"He signed as a 16-year-old and I left before he made his debut. He is just fiercely, fiercely competitive, very, very strong for his size, very difficult to tackle, has great footwork, his defensive qualities are high, he can offload the ball and he know his way to the tryline.

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"Elliott wasn’t a standout junior, he wasn’t one of those star kids, he had to work hard but he has certainly done that and improved to a level where he is one of the best second-rowers in the world. He was a tough kid and it has been great to see his development.

"A lot of the time these days we are looking for athletes and that is great but these boys have grown up with the game and know it inside out. On the back of that, both have worked extremely hard and they have become world class players."

Former Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter succeeded McNamara at Bradford and he said even as a 17-year-old Bateman was keen to play in the NRL but he had just become a father to daughter Millie.

"He said obviously then wasn’t the right time so he waited a couple of years and ended up going to Wigan," Potter said.

"He is a man’s man type-of-guy. He took on that responsibility of being a father without too much fanfare or too much dread.

"He just took it in his stride and with his footy I think he knew he had something to give whereas I don’t think Elliott realised how much of an asset he was to the team with his ability to be able to catch, to kick the ball, to pass, his defensive performance, his talk was good and he had that physicality.

"Ricky Stuart has just brought on the ability he has and he doesn’t harness any of the talent he has, he plays what he sees in front of him and I think Ricky has done a great job with Elliott."

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