The Wests Tigers announced today that Api Koroisau would be joining the club from 2023. This is not Raiders related, but it’s effect is. This signature at another club significant increases the chances that Josh Hodgson will be in green this year.
The Raiders and the Tigers had been in a dance in recent week about the amount of freight that would be attached to Hodgson. The Tigers wanted to pay him 500k a year over two years. The Milk did not want to cover the 250k that was left over. I assumed that the negotiation would continue and end with Hodgson joining the Tigers at some point in January. I was wrong. A younger, cheaper option came along, and Wests jumped at the opportunity. It’s for 2023, but given Isaiah Papali’i joins the same year, and Luke Brooks enters the last year of his deal (making him more moveable), it’s clear the Tigers are rebuilding for that season.
Given the Tigers were the only club offering Hodgson the long(ish) term deal he is craving, it significantly increases the likelihood that Hodgson will be in Canberra for 2022. At this stage, there’s no long term options that I can see, and even worse for him, the nature of most deals done this off-season puts the market for a rake in a kind of stasis because a lot of clubs have made their staffing decisions for 2022 and 2023.
Other clubs may come knocking but they rarely make sense for 2022. The Dolphins won’t have a team yet (and in the long term term there’s his mutual loathing with Wayne Bennett that makes a deal there unlikely). Parramatta or Penrith don’t have the cap space to shoe-horn him in early. Only the Titans makes sense. They have no definite hooker, and recently missed out on Brandon Smith and Reed Mahoney. He would be an experienced head to muster a young spine. It would be another dance about freight – god knows what the Titans cap looks like – but they’ve not even expressed interest at this stage. Of course circumstances could change (such as a contender with an injury at hooker) or Hodgson could play himself into the hearts of another side during 2022. Both of these circumstances would see him leave early, but their likelihood is unclear at this stage.
It’s unclear where this leaves Hodgson and Stuart. The Raiders insist that relationship is fine, which feels more like an attempt to speak it into truth than anything. Stuart isn’t exactly renowned for mending bridges once they’ve been burned. What role Hodgson will have with the first string squad is also unclear. The Milk have seemed keen to move to Starling playing most of the hooking minutes, and with other options at 13, and potentially a different style of attack, it’s not certain that Hodgson will play major minutes as a ball-playing middle (or at all). If he does play in Canberra next season, this will require adroit man management – not something Sticky has a perfect record on of late (see: Williams, George; Leilua, BJ; Sezer, Aidan). Given Hodgson will be playing for his future and will simultaneously be asked to take a back seat, it’s going to take a mammoth effort to keep the relationship stable for the good of the team. The uncertainty of his role and that relationship still makes me wary about the getting carried away and thinking it will be all hunky-dory from here.
Maybe I’m trying to protect myself. I should be positive. There’s obvious ways to fit Hodgson with this roster in a way that suits the Raiders, and the football zeitgeist perfectly. With fitter forwards to help, a better tackler at seven, the Milk will be more able to play Starling and Hodgson together without suffering as much as they did defensively. With a more structured attack, and more time to work this pre-season with all the parts in the spine, there’s a world in which Canberra get the most out of the talent they have, including Hodgson as the opening hooker and the playmaker late. Maybe Sticky and Mick Crawley are in the laboratory working this out right now. The optimist’s heart soars at such a thought. I’m too hurt by 2021 to let myself go to this scenario.
However you want to cut it, while Hodgson is no certainty to be at Canberra in 2022, it’s more likely than not. And that is a stunning turn of events. I’ve been saying goodbye to him for around 8 months now, and now I’m wondering if maybe he’ll get a swan song, and a proper goodbye on good terms. What a time to be alive.