JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Born to lead


Martin Flanagan

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Luke Hodge, the natural leader

Hawthorn's Luke Hodge is an 'utterly natural captain', according to senior writer Martin Flanagan.

PT0M0S 620 349

A strong-minded kid has grown into one of the AFL's finest captains, a formidable competitor but a man still strongly bonded with his home town.

THE moment when I realised Luke Hodge had that indefinable but nonetheless real quality called "presence" came halfway through our interview. It was like bumping my head on a low doorway I hadn't spotted.

I had asked him if he carried a rib injury in the 2008 grand final. "I was OK," he replied. That's the sort of brush-off you expect from an AFL player of his standing, but this was something I needed to know as it goes to the story of a famous game. I put the question again, in a slightly different way, "But did you carry a rib injury into the 2008 grand final?" "I was OK," he repeated.


The change in tone was only slight but it was accompanied by a look from a pair of arrestingly clear eyes that told me not to ask again. Luke Hodge was OK in the 2008 grand final because Luke Hodge said he was. He has that strength of mind which the Romans prized and called "firmitas". Just as he imposed himself on the actual game, he imposes himself on the history of the game.

Three years ago, I put in a media request with the Hawthorn Football Club, asking whether it would be possible for me to spend an hour driving with Hodge around his home town of Colac. You can learn a lot doing a lap of someone's home town with them, particularly someone described by his first AFL coach, Peter Schwab, as "strongly bonded with the place he's from".

Hodge's father, Bryson, says "Luke's mates he'd go to war with" are his mates from Colac. He says his son has country values. Luke's wife, Lauren, is his girlfriend from the days when both attended Colac's Trinity College. When I ask Luke Hodge what growing up in the country means, he says, "Always having mates who lived close by that you could play footy and cricket and basketball with."

His father — who has also been unable to find out whether his son carried an injury into the 2008 grand final — says Luke was "always a strong-minded kid". As a boy, when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he had only one answer, "I want to play football on the MCG at 10 past two on a Saturday afternoon."

He won an A-grade basketball best and fairest when he was 15. That same year, having starred at the AFL's under-16 national carnival, he was chosen to play seniors with Colac. Disregarding opposition from his wife, Bryson declared his son "good to go".

In his second game, he was named at centre half-forward. His opponent, the Cobden captain-coach, was what is called a top country footballer. "Luke ran rings around him," says Bryson. "He kicked six or seven goals. One was from 60 metres out on the boundary. After the match, I said to him, 'Mate, you can play'."

Hodge was drafted by Hawthorn and selected in the Victorian under-17 cricket squad in the same year. He is remembered in Colac as having been a genuinely quick bowler (he says he was erratic and didn't know where the ball was going). His father says his son "had a fast bowler's temperament — he put the fear of God into you and then got you out".

Bryson Hodge says one lesson Luke had to learn along the way was how to control his temper, but from the start he had two special gifts in any sport he played — he could read where the ball was going next and he could organise his teammates. Recalls Bryson, "He was the sort of bowler who'd make a field change and then get a wicket because of it. I'd say, 'Why did you put that bloke there?' and he'd say, 'Because I knew I could get him out that way'."

I eventually meet Luke Hodge in the Hawthorn offices overlooking Waverley Park, Hawthorn's training ground and the site of the Hawks' 1991 premiership win. Encountering the Hawthorn captain for the first time in the home of his club a fortnight into a finals campaign, Hodge actually reminded me of a hawk — he's clear-sighted and has a single intent.

When I ask him why he chose footy ahead of cricket, he says because his "mates" were in the football team. He uses the word "mate" like he means it.

Initially, his loyalty to his Colac mates did him no favours at Hawthorn, which had taken him ahead of Chris Judd in the draft. "Judd knew from the start what was required," says Peter Schwab. "Luke didn't."

He'd still have a few beers at weekends with his mates and possibly a pizza. Then Hawthorn learnt a whirlwind left-arm bowler named L. Hodge was shining for Lorne Cricket Club. A bout of osteitis pubis further retarded his early development, but once he got the necessary fitness his progress was assured.

Then, in the 2008 grand final, he proved himself a master of the game — positioned behind Hawthorn's defensive wall, he controlled the event like a quarterback and won the Norm Smith Medal.

Hawthorn is a club with an impressive list of past champions. It is instructive to hear the regard in which they hold their present captain.

Peter Hudson, one of the great full-forwards in the history of the game, says, "If they pulled together Hawthorn's best-ever team right now, he'd be in it. He's so beautifully composed — he's cool under pressure, he's got excellent disposal and all the courage you could ask for. He can play forward, he can play midfield, he can go to the back line and do so well."

Schwab agrees, saying Hodge would be "a terrific player in any era — he's smart, hard, flexible and he's an excellent kick".

When I ask Leigh Matthews if he thinks Hodge is a great player, he replies with two questions of his own, "What do you mean by great? How many great players have there been?" But then he says, "I've got a lot of time for him — I'm a great fan of his whole persona, not just how he goes about his footy."

Matthews called the Hawks' qualifying final against Collingwood two weeks ago. The match went 17 minutes without a goal, the deadlock being broken by Hodge, who scrambled one from the forward pocket. In the commentary box, Matthews, with genuine appreciation in his voice, said, "Some players just will themselves to the contest."

When I remind Matthews of this, he says in his classically understated way, "When something needs to be done, there's always a fair chance he's going to do it."

Another former champion, Dermott Brereton, sides with Matthews on the issue of classifying Hodge. "He probably needs to finish his career before we mark him as one of the greats, but his competitiveness is extraordinary. He plays the game in the spirit a father would love to see his son play — he gives it and he wears it and at the end of the match he compliments his opponent."

Hudson believes Hodge's natural ability as a leader is his biggest asset. "He's a really approachable sort of guy — he gives freely of his time. He's not someone who doesn't talk to people or can't be bothered with people. He looks like a leader. When he's not on the field, there's a feeling that Hawthorn is missing something."

Hodge replaced Sam Mitchell as captain at the end of 2010. As Hudson puts it, "There must have been an overwhelming groundswell to replace an exceptionally good player as captain."

When I ask Hodge about captaincy, he says, "You've got to understand your teammates as best you can. We've got 47 different blokes on our list. You have to react differently to different ones, some you hit between the eyes with your message, some you find other ways of telling things. It's a lot to do with communication and relationships, and also leading by your actions."

He refers to recent comments made by former Hawthorn great Don Scott, saying Hawthorn's not the club it was and the players aren't as close as they used to be. "I've got 47 bloody good mates here. I'm as close as I've ever been at a footy club. There's still plenty of passion at Hawthorn. This is a great club to be involved in."

He talks about the support the players get from the members, about "running out to a big cheer and hearing the crowd when Cyril or Buddy do something. This is a great thing to be part of."

I take him back to Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin. Of Cyril, he says with a grin, "There's not many things he can't do. He's so competitive, but he's also one of the most selfless blokes at the footy club." He calls Cyril "Junior", the name by which Rioli is known in his home town of Darwin. At Hawthorn, says Hodge, "Junior is so respected by everyone."

He tells me the Hawks' philosophy — "don't do anything over the top, do your job and try and make your teammate better". What he notes about "Buddy" is "how he's matured and developed over the last few years. His whole focus now is on us winning. Look at how many goal assists he has."

Of himself, he says with stark simplicity, "I've got a massive burning in my gut to play."

That's about where we are in our conversation when a Hawthorn media officer taps me on the shoulder. Time's up. "Ah, well," Hodge says with one of his slight grins, "have a good day." Coming from him, it means something.



"I'm a great fan of his whole persona, not just how he goes about his footy."

"When he's not on the field, there's a feeling that Hawthorn is missing something."

"He plays the game in the spirit a father would love to see his son play."

"Hodge would be a terrific player in any era — he's smart, hard, flexible and he's an excellent kick."

Related Coverage

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120 vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108 vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63 vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69 vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115 vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136 vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103 vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122 vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93 vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54 vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113 vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72 vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57 vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86 vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112 vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120 vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 9 9 0 0 151.61 36
West Coast Eagles 9 7 2 0 161.19 28
Sydney Swans 9 7 2 0 134.49 28
Collingwood 9 6 3 0 128.24 24
GWS Giants 9 6 3 0 110.26 24
Hawthorn 9 5 4 0 151.26 20
Adelaide Crows 9 5 4 0 113.37 20
Richmond 9 5 4 0 108.86 20
View all
Featured advertisers