The End of an Era?

BY DAN

Josh Hodgson has been central to Canberra’s success since his arrival in 2015. Today seems like the end of an era, with it announced that Hodgson has been ‘rested’ for this weeks clash against the Cowboys. This was predicted by James Hooper as a nice way of dropping the captain without having to actually drop him. Regardless of whether this is true, the potential implications are clear. Hodgson may no longer be the fulcrum around which the machine functions.

In recent times the complaint has been that Hodgson controls too much of Canberra’s attack. If you read these pages you’ll know I don’t subscribe to these views. But literally everyone else in the world does, and when it’s you against the world either you’re a genius or a fool. And you can tell by the typos in this article (I just assume they’re there) I’m closer to the latter. It’s an interesting take; it seems to me he controls as much as he ever did, it’s more that the game, and the game plan, have changed.

Before we get going we have to acknowledge the challenge of all this. Do we believe Hooper, because well, it’s James Hooper. Or do we believe the Raiders? I want to believe the Milk, but the noise around Hodgson in recent times has been such a maelstrom that it’s hard not think there’s an element of truth to it all. So we acknowledge that we are chasing rumours here, but given Hooper has a habit of passing on information I’d rather not know and being right about it (see Bateman, John), we have to at least entertain that it might be right. Hodgson was hurt on Saturday, rolling his ankle early in the second half. He was also hurt the week before. It would be prudent to rest him. But then Hooper was right about a host of changes, including some we didn’t see coming (Taps! My dude!)

Update: Coach Stuart says Hodgson hurt his calf at training. I guess he wouldn’t say Tapine was dropped and then say Hodgson was injured? I dunno. This is too hard.

He’s been replaced in the starting line up by Tom Starling. Starling will offer less ruck manipulation, but a quicker dart out of nine. George Williams will get the ball closer to the ruck, and therefore have more space to wander (hopefully more northwards than sideways as he’s done recently). Jack Wighton tended to get the ball more last year under Starling than he has so far this year, and I hope he gets more ball from now on, preferably at first receiver on the left side. I would temper that hope though. As much as the lack of ball for Jack has come from Williams playing both sides of the ruck as it has from Hodgson not passing him the ball. Jack’s error rate is up so far in 2021 (average 2.0 a game v 1.45 in 2021), even though he’s had less ball. He’s been getting the ball later from Williams, closer to the line, with less time and less opportunity to make a difference. Here’s hoping removing Hodgson from the equation means Jack gets more time with it before the line.

There’s pressure on Williams too. While most have focused on Hodgson’s performance, Williams has also had a quiet start to the season. The view is that unleashed from Hodgson’s tyrannical reign, he’ll be able to run the game the way he wants and Canberra’s points will flow. They should, given they’re playing a side that averages 31.5 points against this season, but if they don’t, requests to ‘be patient’ may fall on deaf ears for the takesmen of the world.

To me it seems there’s less pressure on Tom. Indeed, there’s an opportunity for Starling to cement this spot, and you can’t help but wish the young man all the best. Whatever the circumstances, he’ll do his role. He’ll get early ball to the halves and let them run the show. Hudson Young will have his running partner again, and I’ll expect a break or two from the second rower operating off the shoulder of Tom.

If Hooper is right, this is not the first time that Hodgson has been dropped. He was sent to the bench early in Canberra’s 2016 season, only to return by playing one of the best game’s ever by a Canberra hooker, inspiring a sixty point demolition of the Tigers, creating a bunch of tries (from memory he was credited with three try assists in that game but it may as well have been all ten). One may suggest that this is a kick in the pants that Hodgson needs. I certainly believe the Raiders need him if they want to win the whole thing.

But this feels different. All along it’s been said that the three Raiders ball players would need time to blend. They’re all better with the ball in their hands, and regardless of why it’s come about, it removes more chances to nut out just what that looks like. I hope Sticky is right. It’s hard not to think he too is feeling the pressure. He needs what works and what works right now. If his view is that is Starling, then I hope he’s right. As we wrote on Monday, Canberra’s season is in the next ten days. There’s no time to be wrong.

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