More interesting scuttlebutt came out this week with James Hooper of Fox Sports reporting that Brisbane has abandoned hope of recruiting Josh Hodgson. According to Hooper it is now likely that the Englishman will remain in Canberra.
Before we get too carried away you should remember that this is news coming from Hooper, and from Brisbane, not Canberra. While Hooper has a deserved reputation for inserting himself into stories, he quite often has good segments of the truth in his work; you just have to sift through the bullshit to find them. In this circumstance it’s important to recognise that his information is coming from Brisbane, who are abandoning their search because they think Hodgson isn’t leaving.
This puts a few degrees of separation between the primary sources in this discussion (Hodgson and Sticky) and the actual source of information (someone at Red Hill). Brisbane may be abandoning its pursuit of Hodgson, but that’s only an indicator that his relationship with Stuart is repaired or that Canberra is keeping him. After all, the Broncos said they keeping Matt Lodge just days before shipping him. It’s mixed messages galore out of Brissie at the moment. It also doesn’t address the fact that Hodgson is looking for time beyond his current contract, and any decision by him that results in a post 2022 contract outside Canberra will likely result in him leaving the club. This is by no means a concrete, or conclusive piece of information.
Hooper rightly points out that Hodgson has been in good form lately. He leads the Raiders in try assists, and has been instrumental (alongside the return of Josh Papalii) in bringing some penetration back to the pack. While the team cratered in his absence, it’s stabilised since his return, and if there’s more to this Canberra season, I’ve no doubt he’ll be prominently involved.
Obviously it makes sense to me to keep Hodgson. He remains the Milk’s best option at hooker, and while he does have a tendency to overplay his hand, he remains an elite ball player in a club without them. A Hodgson attacking decision is better than almost anyone on the roster (outside Jackie Boi, who is getting plenty of opportunities still). Indeed if we’ve learnt anything over the last two years it’s that creativity around the ruck is criminally underrated, and the utility of big men in the red zone against tired defenders is only increasing in Vlandoball. While I’d prefer to see more depth and width in the attack, Starling’s time at hooker (and that same issue remaining) suggests this as much a game plan issue as a personnel one. Sticky wants to play through the middle (which I don’t disagree with), but this needs to be matched with more adventurous (and cohesive) options in the back end of sets.
This also may speak to Canberra looking at the looming halfback market and deciding it’s as unseemly as we have been suggesting. With a halfback like Sam Williams or Brad Schneider in tow, the ramifications of Hodgson trying to do too much are much lower, because the first option will always be where Jack is heading. Indeed, if he stays, Hodgson will need to be as involved next year as he currently is (if not more), if only to keep defences honest, keep space for Jack and time for someone like Schneider to develop.
The remaining question is what does this mean for Tom Starling. His contract is up at the same time as Josh, and he’d be loathe to wait beyond that behind him. So if Canberra are keeping Hodgson for now, it will need to be made clear to both whether 2022 will be his last, and who will be the hooker going forward. While I am a big believer that they can and should play together, it’s naïve at best to think that Starling will happily play a subservient role in the longer term. This doesn’t even mention what pathways are available to young-gun Adrian Trevilyan. If this information from Hooper is right (and well, that ‘if’ is as big as Hooper’s ego), then there’s still a decision coming for the Raiders around their hooker position. This will only delay it by a year.
One shred of information from Hooper does not make a summer (that’s how the saying goes right?). But this indication pairs well with the changing discourse surrounding Hodgson that has been coming out from Raiders HQ since his return to first grade last month. There remains a heap of structural reasons it may end up being folly – and we’ve outlined them here – but this skerrick of information is a welcome sight.