Rugby League

Josh Hodgson repays Canberra Raiders' gamble in spades

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has revealed a chat with former St Helens coach Nathan Brown helped convince him Josh Hodgson was the man to end the club's exhaustive search for a long-term hooker. 

While "Blake Austin-mania" has gripped the capital after the five-eighth's superb first year at Canberra, Englishman Hodgson has been quietly establishing himself as arguably their most important player. 

Stuart was impressed watching Hodgson in Super League and the former Hull KR skipper's enthusiasm to seize his NRL chance when offered a spot sealed the deal. 

The Raiders needed to pay Hull KR a sizeable transfer fee to acquire Hodgson, but he's been worth every cent. 

Wests Tigers recruit Austin has been the media darling while Hodgson has flown under the radar. However statistics confirm the huge impact the 25-year-old has made in his rookie NRL season.

He has made only six errors in 18 games and despite only playing around 50 minutes per match, his numbers stack up favourably with rival NRL hookers. 

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Hodgson is ranked third in try assists (six), third in dummy-half metres (770), third in dummy half runs (107), equal fourth in line-break assists (five), fourth in kicks made (41), fifth in tackle breaks (28), fifth in offloads (12), fifth in run metres (893) and fourth in number of runs (124).

 "He's not underrated to me, I don't underrate what he does for us," Stuart said. 

"What really interested me was Nathan Brown gave him a terrific rap to me, he's a great judge of a football player. After talking to Josh, how enthusiastic he was about the opportunity and what he wanted to come over here and prove, it showed me he was hungry for success. 

"I watched a lot of his footy at Hull and it was a no-brainer after speaking to him on the phone that night."

Hodgson is already in Canberra's leadership group and Stuart said his drive to improve has been infectious. "Hodgso is our most high-energy player, he brings a lot of positive energy to the boys," Stuart said. 

"He's filling that desire and healthy want into the players, I can see that growing on a number of players around him. His attitude since day one has been so professional. Coming back from the Four Nations [with England] last year he didn't want a break, he wanted to jump straight into it and get on the front foot with everything we're doing." 

Hodgson has won Canberra's players' player award the past two matches, and was directly involved in setting up three tries against Penrith. Twice he threw short passes on the final tackle to set up four-pointers, and was arguably the difference between the two sides. 

"It's just instinct, you get a feel for if it's on or if it's not, and it worked for us," Hodgson said. 

"I didn't want to come here [Canberra] and be second string and not playing too much. I knew there was a lot of competition here and knew I'd have to be playing well, that's made me better as a player."

The Raiders are now just one win outside the top eight and after this Saturday's tough test against North Queensland in Townsville, play teams below them on the ladder for the rest of the season. 

"They're all massive games for us now at this point of the year," Hodgson said. "It's not time to start patting ourselves on the back and say we've done it. 

"We've been in a few tight ones this year and we've been working on completing sets, kicking long, chasing hard and doing those one per cent things which win games."

Hodgson normally gets replaced by bench hooker Kurt Baptiste in the middle of games but his impact at Penrith was so great, he stayed on the field for nearly 60 minutes straight before succumbing to cramp. 

He is confident he will eventually be capable of playing 80 minutes when needed, which he did regularly at Hull KR. "It's something I've done before, it is a big ask but it's something I'll be OK with if it came to that," Hodgson said.  

Especially with the substitutions going down [from 10 per game to eight next year], if we were only going to play one nine it's something I'd speak to Ricky about."

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