How Bennett’s tough love convinced champ to go
WAYNE Bennett’s plea for Justin Hodges not to ruin his reputation convinced the strike centre to cut short his Broncos career and chase a premiership finale this season.
As he prepares for Saturday night’s finals showdown with the Cowboys, Hodges has disclosed details of the private meeting that led to his early retirement.
On the eve of the Origin series in May, Hodges intended to play for the Broncos next season, telling the club he would take up a contract option in his favour.
Within days, the inspirational skipper was summoned to an urgent meeting with Bennett at Brisbane’s headquarters at Red Hill.
The master coach has firmly refused to disclose what he said to Hodges but the centre told The Courier-Mail Bennett’s honest appraisal gave him career perspective.
Bennett would not force Hodges out but the coach flagged the perils of playing one season too many. Bennett helped Broncos legends such as Shane Webcke and Darren Lockyer retire and he pulled no punches with Hodges.
“We sat down and Wayne was pretty honest with me,” Hodges revealed.
“He said, ‘All the champions at the Broncos have never gone one year too long ... and I don’t want you going a year too long’.
“He then told me he didn’t want me being remembered for that, if I had a bad year (in 2016).
“I appreciated Wayne’s honesty. To be honest, I could see that my time was nearly up.
“My body was breaking down and I just needed to hear the truth from someone I trusted as well.”
It says much about Bennett’s gravitas that Hodges is not bitter, but grateful.
The duo helped spearhead Brisbane’s most recent premiership triumph in 2006.
Hodges says Bennett’s tough love has also turned the class of 2015 into a title-winning force.
“It’s all attitude,” he said. “Last year, we had blokes in this side who knew they would be playing week in, week out.
“But Wayne made it clear from day one, if you don’t play up to standard, you won’t be in the team.
“That scared everyone a bit and motivated us, too. You don’t want to lose your spot and that has made a difference in our training and diet.
“I don’t know all the old coaches like Jack Gibson but in my time Wayne will go down as the best coach ever.”