MY FINEST MOMENT
er helping Queensland to eight series wins over nine years from 2006-14, Justin Hodges had decided 2015 would be his last year of representative football. The tenacious and skilful centre had formed a key part of the Maroons’ competitive core throughout his 26 Origin games. With the series level at 1-1, Hodges went into his last match as a Maroon desperate to retire a winner.
Coach Mal Meninga made sure Queensland was focused on winning a record ninth series win out of ten. But quietly, Hodges’ team-mates – particularly those he’d played with for almost 15 years at the top level – were hell-bent on giving the 33-year-old victory in his last match.
“From all the week and all the meetings we had, it was never about me,” says Justin Hodges. “But I just knew the boys were going to put in.
“I remember having a conversation with Greg [Inglis] during the week, saying, 'Mate, I can’t walk out of this arena and lose, so make sure you win this for me'."
Hodges was nervous leading into the game. It wasn’t about the result, but more about knowing it would be the last time he’d be in Origin camp.
He recalls soaking in the loud atmosphere of close to 50,000 fans before walking out onto Suncorp Stadium. It’s something that sticks with him to this day.
“When it was time to run out and the doors opened, it’s like thisbreathof air comes through the tunnel,” he said. “Before the doors open, you can’t really hear anything and once [they do], you run out, the roar that you get – and the goosebumps you get – is something you can’t replace. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Aer the Blues kicked an early penalty goal, the Maroons hit back with three first-half tries to Dane Gagai, Josh Papalii and Greg Inglis. Hodges came up with a superlative play on his own before Papalii’s score – baing the ball back when it was over the deadball line to get a repeat set.
It was a stunning effort that highlighted how much Queensland wanted it. “The game wasn’t to be expected like that,” Hodges says.
“We always thought it was going to be a close game. Then, we put a few points on prey early. I think at half-time, we were in front by a fair bit.” Indeed, the Maroons raced to a 22-2 lead at the break. They continued to pour on the points aerwards in what became a blur of tries.
Players barely get time to breathe in Origin games. Not this one. The inflated scoreline allowed Hodges to relax and enjoy his final moments as a Maroon.
“That game always sticks out for me as one of the greatest because I had time to reflect on everything,” he said. “Normally in Origin, you don’t get time to do anything, it’s non-stop. Just the way that game panned out was unbelievable.
“That last 20 minutes, probably even the last 30 or 40 minutes, was the most pleasurable because I could actually just relax, knowing that the game’s done, and soak up the atmosphere. We’re just scoring try aer try, everything just clicked for us, you know?”
Queensland captain Cameron Smith capped off the occasion by asking his old mate to hold up the trophy, too. It took Hodges by surprise and put the icing on a remarkable end to his Origin career:
“Just to do that – in front of our home crowd – was a great moment and one of the memories I’ll always have.”
“I could actually just relax, knowing that the game was done, and soak up the atmosphere."