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The Josh Hodgson who returns to Canberra for the first time does so not as the hooker once considered arguably the best in the game, but as a man at a crossroads.
Hodgson will face his former club at a time when his current one needs him to perform more than ever. Parramatta will face a Raiders side on a four-game winning streak, without star halfback Mitchell Moses (concussion).
After failing to retain Reed Mahoney, the Eels secured Hodgson on a two-year deal, although the parties have a mutual option on the second season. As the Eels face the prospect of fading out of finals contention, questions are being raised over whether Hodgson is the man to guide the team out of dummy half and into the playoffs.
Given his age of 33, coupled with the challenges of coming into a new team following a third knee reconstruction, it was always going to take time for the England international to get back to something resembling his best. However, time isn’t on Parramatta’s side after failing to reproduce the form that propelled them to last year’s grand final during the opening third of the 2023 season.
“With ‘Hodgo’, he helps my game a lot,” said Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown. “He talks to me the whole time and he keeps me relaxed. He’s not overly happy with his performances, but I think he does well and I think it’s a blessing that we have ‘Handsy’ [fellow hooker Brendan Hands] there to back him up. I actually enjoy the rotation because it’s two different types of footy. He’s obviously going to keep working, but it’s a slow process.”
There was a brief period in 2019, when Hodgson helped guide Canberra to the 2019 grand final, that some pundits felt he had surpassed the great Cameron Smith as the game’s best No.9. While no one expects him to get back to that level, he has the chance to prove to that he still has something to give when he comes up against the Green Machine.
Eels hooker Josh Hodgson.Credit: Getty
“It’s going to be massive for him,” Brown said. “I’ve never been at another club so I don’t know what it’s like, but I’m sure if you go up against your old team, he’s going to want to play well. He knows that we’ve got his back and it’s not just going to be up to him.”
Hands has been impressive since making his debut in round four and recently signed a new contract that will extend his stay at the club until 2025. He and Hodgson are currently sharing the dummy half duties.
Eels three-quarter Bailey Simonsson, also a former Raider, believes Hodgson is ready to silence his critics.
WHY PARRAMATTA CAN STILL MAKE THE TOP EIGHT
- Minimal disruption during State of Origin: Junior Paulo is the only certainty to make the NSW side, meaning the side will be relatively unaffected during the interstate series.
- Regan Campbell-Gillard: The Eels are missing “RCG” up front, whose return will be a massive boost when he returns from that groin injury.
- An easier run home: Brad Arthur’s men have played most of the top teams already. After next week’s clash with bogey team Souths, they have a run of seven winnable games, plus two byes.
- Fast finishers: Parramatta finished the 2022 regular season with five wins from their past seven games, proof they can find form at the right time of year.
- Maika Sivo is a match winner: The NRL’s leading tryscorer has scored 80 tries from 93 NRL games. To put that in perspective, the blockbusting Semi Radradra had an almost identical record of 82 tries from 94 games.
- Class roster: There are too many good players – including Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown, Junior Paulo, Regan Campbell-Gillard and Clint Gutherson – for this side to miss they finals if they stay healthy.
“One thing I know about ‘Hodgo’ is that he’s a competitor,” Simonsson said.
“He’s a hard worker. I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure there’s a bit of a fire lit in him to prove people wrong. He’s just got to focus on himself and what he can control because he’s a great player.
“I know Hodgo really well, and he’s a great bloke and a great player so he’s going to be sweet, which he already is. He’s playing good footy. Talk is just talk and that’s all outside noise.”
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