Hodges Hammy to Hold Up for Locky Farewell
After a year on the sidelines and another injury scare at the start of the 2011 NRL season, Brisbane Broncos veteran centre Justin Hodges looks to be back to full fitness and ready to play on through the finals alongside his long-time friend and mentor, retiring skipper Darren Lockyer.
Hodges, 29, missed the entire 2010 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in a nasty pre-season training injury.
Resuming in the early rounds of this year’s NRL Telstra Premiership, Hodges re-injured himself in Round 10 when the Broncos went down 33 – 10 to the Penrith Panthers.
Suffering a grade-one hamstring tear in his right leg, Hodges was out for three club games and also missed out on representing the Queensland Maroons in the opening two State Of Origin test clashes.
He made a good recovery, however, and was there for the Maroons monumental sixth straight Origin series win in Game three which was also the final Origin match for Rugby League great Darren Lockyer.
Hodges is now looking forward to playing a part in the Broncos 2011 NRL finals berth, every man in the squad eager to do their best and go as far as they can to give Locky a fairytale farewell from the game.
After debuting for Brisbane in 2000, Hodges spent three years playing for the Sydney Roosters during which they won the 2002 NRL Premiership.
Returning home to the Broncos in 2005, Hodges enjoyed a second the second NRL Grand Final win of his career with Brisbane in 2006, the 22-capped Test star hopeful they can go all the way again this year.
The Broncos currently sit fifth on the NRL Ladder and although assured of a spot in the September-semis, are fighting for a Top 4 finish to lock in a home game during the finals at Suncorp Stadium.
In training this week leading up to Brisbane’s NRL Round 21 game against the Sharks on Friday night, Hodges was seen hoisting highballs all over the field, a great sign for him and the team.
Despite the noticeable improvement, Broncos coach Anthony Griffin is still wary that Hodges’ hamstring could breakdown again.
“He’s a lot better than he was a month ago, he’s a lot more confident,” Griffin said.
“Obviously every game he plays helps his confidence and there’s a little bit less risk with the injury with every minute he gets through.”
Keeping Hodges and his hammy in good form is essential for Brisbane to succeed at this crucial stage of the season, the known strike weapon bringing experience and points to every match he plays.
“Our medical staff work with him every week to help him deal with things but he’s going to be a week to week proposition,” Griffin said.
“If you remember he came back in round three against the Titans and it (tore) again in round eight or nine against Penrith.
“He was six weeks up last time and he’s four weeks up this time.
“What I’m saying is we’re never out of the woods with him, we just have to continue to manage him.
“He is a lot more confident and he is moving a lot better so those are positives.”
Captain Darren Lockyer was given the option of an extra day’s rest this week after taking a pounding during last week’s harsh 26 – 6 thrashing by the top-ranked Melbourne Storm.
Locky came off early from the game with his own minor hamstring “twinge”, but will be there on Friday night.
“He’s trained all week but he could have had the day off on Monday if he wanted to,” Griffin said.
“He didn’t want to, he wanted to train which is a good sign for us.”
Friday night’s home game against Cronulla is a must-win for Brisbane to snare fourth spot from fellow Queensland club the Cowboys, the two teams tied on 28 competition points.
North Queensland, who have battled on well without their injured skipper Johnathan Thurston in the weeks since the Origin decider, play the Panthers this Saturday night.
The Broncos v Sharks clash will also be Lockyer’s remarkable 348th top-grade NRL game.
After the match, he will be just one-game away from equalling the NRL’s all-time record of 349 with Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies.