A Knight in Shining Armour?

2022 Hodgson article count: 1

Photos of Jamal Fogarty’s rig posted by the Green Machine Podcast: 0

BY DAN

The saddening injury to Jayden Brailey of the Newcastle Knights has potentially opened up a can of worms for the Canberra Raiders. Suddenly a team trying to make it big is in need of a hooker. Will Josh Hodgson be their solution? He might be a good fit but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I should be clear this isn’t a rumour. I’ve not seen this put to any team, nor even a “sources close to”. There is no rumour. Ok? Ok. So let’s not pretend Hodgson is walking out the door. A few outlets have begun to float possible names for replacements for Brailey (like this) and Hodgson’s name is among them, but it’s all hypothetical at this stage.

Moments like this will be common for the Green Machine intermittently this season. Teams will lose key ruck generals, and the Raiders’ surplus of quality starters at this position (i.e they have 2 and most teams have 1) means that his name will always come up when teams are looking. This may be the first time of 2022 this discussion has occurred but it’s unlikely the last.

The case for a pitch from Newcastle is pretty straightforward. Hodgson replaces not only the ruck work they lost when Brailey’s achilles became uncooperative, but also the organisation that they lost when Mitchell Pearce took his talents to south France. The Knights have plenty of weapons around the ruck (the Saifitis, Barnett, Ponga) that could work in concert with the Englishman. It would also open up the field for Ponga. As it stands he’ll be the only elite ball-player in the spine, and defences will load up wherever he roams. Bringing Hodgson in would at least provide an alternative fulcrum, keeping some level of honesty in defensive structures the Knights face.

The cap space is always a question here. Hodgson is on good money, at least for 2022. Part of the reason he wasn’t moved to the Tigers last year was because no agreement could be reached on money that all parties were happy with. But it’s now late January, and practically a quarter of Hodgson’s 2022 salary has been paid by Raiders HQ. I’m no accountant, my back of my milk carton maths reckons that would put the Knights up for less than 600k instead of the more onerous 750k plus. This is important, because the Knights have been rumoured to have interest in bringing Luke Brooks’ hefty salary over from the Tigers. The rumoured offer is for 600k a year. This means the money is likely there for Newcastle.

But it would mean that they would be choosing short-term (Hodgson) over long-term (Brooks). That kind of decision is usually only made by teams that need to win now to preserve someone’s position, usually a coach. Say hello to Adam O’Brien. The former Bellamy assistant is probably good at his job, but his uptight demeanour, unique approach to community relations and unfulfilled expectations, means that puts him in a warm seat with expectations that don’t match his available roster. Without Pearce, without Brailey, the pressure is on, and O’Brien may see Hodgson as his Knight in shining armour. It would also be remiss of me to ignore the fact that Josh has family at the Knights already in the form of nephew Bailey.

If you’ve read these pages you may be surprised when I said I think the Raiders would reject any overture for Hodgson at this stage. He remains an elite ball-player around the ruck, and provides an important change of pace and variety when he shifts to lock. Criticisms that he over-handles were always overstated in my view, borne more from an offence without the structure returning offensive coordinator Mick Crawley had provided in the past and will provide this season. With his future settled beyond this year Hodgson seems much more settled and committed to the green jersey (from an outsiders perspective).

But more than these subjective views, the major reason Canberra should (and will in all likelihood) hold on to Hodgson is the uncertainty surrounding the position for the club. With Tom Starling’s legal status still unclear, and the coronavirus almost certainly to have a significant impact (not to mention injury), the Milk cannot afford to let elite talent go. It’s all hands on deck until it’s we’re in the clear Covid-wise, which might be 2031 for all I know. Any movement would require a starting quality hooker in return, and suddenly the cap benefits of losing Hodgson reduce enough to make it not worthwhile.

In all likelihood this is a thought bubble floating through the zeitgeist of rugby league rumour mills. The uncertainty on both sides means it’s almost certain to not eventuate, even into anything approaching a rumour.

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