MY FINEST MO­MENT

Inside Sport - - Contents - – An­drew Mar­mont

A

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 this‡breath‡of 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.”

AŠer 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 – ba’ing 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 pre’y 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 aŠer­wards 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 aŠer 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."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.