New Blues halfback Trent Hodkinson is playing for so much more than the Blues – he’s playing for a potential million-dollar-a-season contract which will set him up for life. Hodkinson won't have that in the front of his mind – but it will be somewhere in his thought process. He is off contract at the end of next year and his manger David Riolo is planning to start talks with the Bulldogs once the series is over. The 25-year-old deserves some long-term security after enduring a horror run with injuries, which threatened to end his career.
The Dogs were prepared to pay $850,000 with a couple of cars in the mix for Andrew Fifita – so that should be the starting point in negotiations for an Origin halfback. What Dogs fans should know is that Hodkinson is very happy at Belmore.
“Des [Hasler] has been great for me and I can't explain the respect I have for him,” Hodkinson said of his Bulldogs coach.
Better than that is an endorsement from his fiancee.
“When we went through the tough times, the support from the club was just incredible,” said Chantelle Traficante.
‘‘People will often say that they are at a good club – but the people at the Bulldogs are unique. When Todd Greenberg was there the level of interest he showed in Trent was incredible, and it meant a lot to Trent. But the person who deserves special mention is Steve McCullough – the club physio. He spent pretty much every day with Trent through his injuries and with late night calls and the like. His talent and extensive research helped him make a speedier recovery.”
Ironically, Hodkinson’s former Manly teammate Daly Cherry-Evans will be the other halfback who will be attracting big offers. It's worth remembering when Hasler had the choice between both players, he opted to play Hodkinson in first grade.
BLUES PLAY MIND GAMES
The Blues have taken their quest to win Origin to the next level – they’ve engaged a mind coach to help them end one of the game's great losing streaks. Garie Dooley from Leading Edge is taking on what some might say is the toughest job in sport – getting the minds right of a team that has not won a series for eight years. Leading Teams was created with Ray McLean 20 years ago, when he was working with fellow co-director Kraig Grime in the air force. The pair were involved in training and education when they realised some teams of high-performing individuals were not delivering outcomes as good as expected. Dooley said he was not interested in doing interviews about his role. “In the spirit of what we are doing I’d prefer not to say anything,” he said. “I want the focus to be on what we are doing and the players. I’m not being rude, it's just how I’d prefer it.” Leading Teams also work with the Swans, Hawks, Magpies, Saints, Dockers and Demons in the AFL. They were responsible for introducing the “Bloods” culture into the Swans. Dooley says the company’s philosophy when it comes to team sports is fixing “a disconnection of dynamics.” The company view, which Dooley has expressed previously, is: “While these people were highly technical and confident – in some cases, the best in their field – when they came together as a team they were slightly dysfunctional. So the question was: why does that happen? And that was the genesis of the Leading Teams model we use today.”
NO SYMPATHY FROM DANK
There has been widespread sympathy for Sandor Earl – the way that the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority has treated him is a disgrace – but he is not going to get too much sympathy from the man he dumped on to ASADA. Earl’s initial interview with The Footy Show was a finger-pointing session at Steve Dank – the sports scientist at the centre of the ASADA drama. He made it very clear that Dank told him everything was fine and he was the one who put him in touch with the doctors who administered the supplements. Dank watched that interview at my house. He tuned in and out of what was being said and was consulting with lawyers when the interview was taking place. Dank has sat back and refrained from commenting on Earl ... until now. He is bemused by the attitude that people have towards Earl. “I’ll say one thing about Sandor,” Dank said. ''The one problem with wanting to ride into town to be the executioner is that you don’t want to be the one who then has to test the guillotine.” And while Earl is generating headlines – Shane Flanagan is serving his ban from coaching for the reason that he should have been more aware of procedures. He has to cop it sweet – but he is bemused that he is the only one who is paying the price. ASADA must have been waiting for something to drop from the clouds – because it announced months ago it had finished its investigation. ASADA is now in the position where it has to issue infraction notices or face legal action from the likes of Flanagan – or even from players who have been identified from both Essendon and the Sharks. The NRL is also going to be watching closely. Its role in allowing Cronulla to operate without a chief executive during the Dank era is notable. Surely lawyers will argue about the NRL's duty of care. Meanwhile, Flanagan has shelved his trip to Salford – he is sick of waiting for a work visa. “By the time I got there now it would almost be time to get back and starting to plan for next year,” he said.
PEARCE PAYS HEAVY PRICE
Mitchell Pearce turned to boxing training to help him get through his Origin demotion. In reality, the $20,000 fine he was handed is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what his big night out will cost him. Pearce has taken his snubbing hard – the Blues meant plenty to him and if he is scrubbed from the series he will be $90,000 out of pocket in match payments – let alone any bonus payments he has structured into his playing contract. So, $110,000 for a night out is the potential real cost. I bumped into Pearce during the week and he wasn’t making excuses. He was circumspect about missing Origin and was focusing on helping the Roosters recapture their mojo. It was also a tough week for Pearce’s dad, Wayne. He had to attend the Blues launch with all the game's dignitaries – he did it with class. He would have been bursting to defend his son, but knows he has to put emotions to one side.
EAGLE SPREADS WINGS
Lauryn Eagle could soon become a regular trainer to the star WAGS if a recent session was anything to go by. Luke Lewis’ wife Sonia was joined by Trent Hodkinson’s fiancee Chantelle at a recent boot camp session. Sonia is back to full fitness after her battle with melanoma, while Chantelle is something of a natural. She is a former representative basketball player. Chantelle met Hodkinson through sporting circles when his team and her team attended a function.
Bulldogs and Blues star Josh Reynolds was a massive Roosters fan growing up – and here is the picture that proves it. It was at an Anzac Day game against the Dragons several years ago – and he was cheering for the club he loved so much. His passion came from his love of Brad Fittler. “It’s not something I thought about ... it makes it that bit more special, him playing for the Blues in the jumper that Brad Fittler wore,” said his mum Nicole. ‘‘He loved Brad growing up.’’ “Yeah, he was my hero,’’ Josh said. “I’m well aware I’m in the jumper he wore. And there is pressure in that, but there is pressure regardless of that.” Reynolds has dreamt of this day since he was a kid. “He’d always tell me that he’d play for the Blues. I’d dismiss it, but I was always hopeful,” his mum said. Reynolds is using his fame and fortune to build his mum a home. “He always told me growing up that he’d repay me … I didn’t expect it, but I do appreciate it so much.” At present, Reynolds is living at home in a two-bedroom unit with mum and his brother Drew. “They grew up without too much,” she said. “So for Josh, it’s no big deal to live in a tiny place. I am looking forward to living out the back of his place – he has let me design things, chose furniture. It’s very exciting. What more could a mum want?” Maybe a Blues win.
MAL'S SHORT MEMORY
The comment from Mal Meninga that that his players wouldn’t jeopardise their positions in the Queensland team through off-field behaviour was a direct slap at Mitchell Pearce and the Blues. It was also a little difficult to take seriously. It was minor, but last year Meninga was caught going behind a bar in Queensland to pour himself a beer – that incident caused headlines. Then there was the investigation into Ben Te'o, which ended with insufficient evidence to issue a charge. “I remember quite clearly that Ben Te'o played for Queensland last year and I, not having a go at Te'o, it is just a fact, he played when he was under investigation,” former Blues halfback Brett Finch said. “So to have a go at Pearcey and the Blues culture doesn’t make too much sense.” While on Te'o, Souths officially withdrew their offer for him three weeks ago. Coach Michael Maguire was hoping to keep him – he saw him as potential leader. To say he is disappointed in Te'o's decision to leave is an understatement.
T-REX A NEW MAN
The biggest surprise to Blues insiders has been the blossoming of Tony Williams as an individual. He’s matured enormously since becoming a dad and is a different man to the one who last played with the Blues.