The past two months have been the hardest for Josh Hodgson.
Despite Canberra winning seven of their past eight games and everything going well with his wife and young family, Hodgson has found himself thinking more and more about his late brother.
Nathan Hodgson, who was 11 months older than Josh, battled depression before he passed away just four days before Christmas. Yes, Nathan took his own life. No, it was not drug related.
Josh has spoken on several occasions about his brother, but now, more than ever, he wishes Nathan was there to enjoy the ride as Canberra surge towards the NRL finals.
Hodgson, regarded by many as the second best No.9 in the game behind Cameron Smith, speaks breezily about his love for Canberra, the NRL, coach Ricky Stuart, England coach Wayne Bennett, Jarrod Croker (who still gets annoyed when people call him "Jason") and his excitement about Sunday's blockbuster against the premiers.
But it's when the subject turns to his brother that Hodgson's mood changes.
"You don't realise how much you love someone until you realise you won't see them again," Hodgson tells The Sun-Herald as he sits on a tiny stool inside a chilly Raiders gym this week. "I didn't have a lot of time with my brother the last few years. He had his own problems where he couldn't see me as often as he would have liked when I did go home.
"There were only 11 months between us. He was born on November 30, 1988, and I was born October 31, 1989. We were inseparable as kids and would go everywhere together.
"I always used to think we'd get back like that.
"I wrote to him, 'sort yourself out and then I can't wait to get back to what it was like when we were little'.
"The hardest moments for me now are when we're doing well. They're actually tougher than the bad times. When you're doing well and life is good and you're winning, and you're at home with your kids and they're making you laugh, you realise he's not here for them.
"That's why the last few months have been so hard. I didn't expect that.
"My nanna was like his second mum. He'd ring her every day, pester the life out of her, but she loved him to death and is still struggling without him. She's 74. She didn't think she'd outlive one of her grandkids.
"It sounds stupid, but I'm almost feeling guilty because he's not here to see and experience what I'm experiencing in my life. He never will. That's tough to take."
Nathan was a huge fan of his brother. When Nathan was 18, he decided to change his surname. Which meant that when his younger brother did go on to succeed for England and the Raiders, Nathan had to try and convince inmates at the prison he was in in the north of England that he really was related to English rugby league loyalty.
"He'd tell the boys he was my brother," Josh recalls. "None of them believed him, so I sent him one of those player cards and wrote on the back, 'now the f---kers will believe you're my brother'.
"After he passed, I remember going through all his belongings and he had all these posters of me and photos of my family. They had been stuck on to a wall with toothpaste. I quickly realised how much love he had for me and my kids."
Hodgson took it upon himself to talk about depression. He even found himself discussing his brother a couple of months ago when invited by local Canberra charity Menslink to address youngsters battling their mental demons.
"Sometimes it can be a bit too much for people, and while I don't want to talk about my brother all the time - everyone loses someone in their lives - the reason I talk about him is because so many people go through depression and anxiety and don't want to say anything," he says. "If one person reads this and has a conversation, it's worth it. I'm not the first person to lose a loved one and I won't be last, but you try to do your best by them."
Hodgson's English accent is thick. It's so thick I admit to him the only reason I undertook the six-hour round trip to Canberra was because it would have been near impossible to understand him over the phone.
He is friendly. A gentleman. Fiercely driven. Jack Wighton's best mate. Loves a laugh.
All those traits were not lost on his England coach. "Josh is a caring and a really committed bloke who tries to do his best for you on and off the field," Bennett says.
Such is his belief in Hodgson, Bennett maintains England would have won the 2017 World Cup had his star No.9 not ruptured his ACL in the gripping semi-final against Tonga.
Last year's second Test against New Zealand also evoked wonderful memories for the supercoach.
"We played at Anfield and were down at half-time, but he took control of the game in the second half and was the difference - he won the game for us," Bennett says. "It was as good a second half as I've seen anyone play. He just made great decisions and never overplayed it.
"I think Michael Ennis has also been really good for him this year."
Ennis, the man once loathed by Raiders fans after he mocked their "viking clap" during Cronulla's shock win over Canberra in the 2016 finals, has been working with Hodgson once a week.
Hodgson has learnt a lot. So has Ennis.
"I'm another set of eyes for him," says Ennis, who has also helped Stuart and assistant Joel Carbone with their attack inside the opposition's 30-metre zone.
Hodgson's best asset remains his feel for the game and his distribution.
"Your service is your bread and butter, and Hodgo's service at the moment is as good as you'll see," Ennis says. "His ability to mix it up with a 30-metre wide pass to a halfback and land it on a dime, then in a split second later at the next ruck play short and put someone into a hole or in behind the ruck ... it's hard to do.
"To have that skill and in a split second adjust your temperament for wanting to play long or short or vice versa, it only comes through having a feel for the game, hard work and natural instincts.
"That's what I love about Josh. He has natural instinct. And if you throw in a bit of larrikinism and him also being a humble Englishman, you get a special player."
Hodgson is now into his fifth season at Canberra. Stuart concedes the Raiders struggled through the first half of last year because their No.9 was overcoming a ruptured ACL.
Stuart loved what he saw from the kid running around for Hull KR all those years ago and after getting feedback from a few people he trusts, including Newcastle coach Nathan Brown - who was in charge of St Helens at the time - knew he had to have him.
"Sticky" never imagined Hodgson would become the player he is. Then again, Stuart never envisaged four more Englishmen would be on his roster either.
"Everyone I'd spoken to about Josh talked about his professionalism and work ethic, and if you've got that, you will always improve as a footballer,'' Stuart says.
Hodgson has embraced the co-captaincy with Jason, errrr, Jarrod Croker (Jason Croker is Jarrod's "distant cousin" who remains the most capped Raider). Jarrod will celebrate 250 NRL games in what will be almost a full house in Canberra on Sunday. Croker is so unassuming the locals still get his name wrong.
"I've got a rough head, so there's nobody I get mistaken for," Hodgson says. "But 'Toots' gets mad when people call him Jason. We'll be out and people will be like, 'Jason. can I get an autograph?' He's like, 'why do they keep calling me Jason?'
"If you're reading this, make sure you call him Jason."
As soon as round one Hodgson knew something special was brewing in the nation's capital this season. They went to the Gold Coast and held them scoreless.
It hardly seems like a wonderful feat now, but back then many thought the Titans could play finals football. The 19-0 win over Parramatta was another eye-opener for Hodgson, as was the win over Penrith when the Panthers were shooting for eight straight.
Hodgson knows September has arrived early for the Raiders. After the Roosters, the Storm await in Melbourne and then Manly.
The tough-as-nails rake is up for the challenge.
And Nathan is in his thoughts. He's not sure how his emotions will be should the Green Machine motor all the way to the first weekend in October.
"I won't look too far ahead, but I'll be doing everything I can to get that trophy and then take it on a plane back home for Nathan."
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- SMH/The Age