The Best in the Game?

BY DAN

In its preview for Monday’s clash with the Canterbury Bulldogs, the Canberra Raiders’ website made the claim that Josh Hodgson was a ‘surprise’ early-season leader of the Dally M Player of the Year voting count. This begs the question of the Canberra Raiders. Do you even watch? Raiders fans are used to Sydney journalists being surprised by Hodgson. But our own people?

The last time Raiders fans were surprised by Josh Hodgson was when he burst through the door[1] of the league last year as a dummy-half for the modern era. His intelligent, quick and creative service around the ruck unbalanced opposing defences, making the lives of his young forwards easy. His ball play energized the Raiders’ attack, immediately turning a side that had once looked like a toddler looking for his parent in a supermarket into a slick operation – in the middle of the park at least. And good god if he didn’t have an uncanny ability to find himself behind the forty-metre line – by hook or by crook – launching a missile towards the opposition red zone. But if you’ve read any of our game reviews from last season you already knew this.

hodgson yellow
Hodgson impressed last year. Just not many people noticed.

Hodgson wasn’t perfect – he still needed to prove he could make it the entire 80 minutes of the game, and show more consistency in attack and defence – one suspects his occasional tendency to fall off tackles last season was a function of coming to terms with the greater power and pace of the NRL.

By the end of the season it should have been clear that Hodgson was already amongst the elite at his position – although the question could be asked had anyone noticed? Raiders fans will tell you, mostly seriously, that the Sydney Rugby League media rarely finds time to watch the Raiders play. And as such, despite being clearly the Raiders best player all season, Hodgson went largely unnoticed. Michael Ennis won best hooker at the 2015 Dally M awards because voting for a guy who is good copy is easier than actually watching Raiders games. The Daily Telegraph published this breathless piece about how James Segeyaro and Isaac Luke were changing the way hookers played.[2] This from Rugby League week put Hodgson as the 13th best hooker in the competition. This from NRL.com put Farah (it’s no longer 2009) and Ennis (it’s no longer 2011), Jake Friend (it’s no longer…ever?) and Isaac Luke (pies) in the top 5, but no Hodgson.[3]

Jhodgson
Hodgson is already an elite rake

But then you would only know that Hodgson was one of the best hookers in the game if you actually watched Raiders games, which admittedly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.If you had then you’d know that Hodgson was in the conversation with the best rakes in the competition last year.

And so coming into the season the question still remained: even if Stuart let him go the full 80, even if he was able to dominate for the whole game, would anyone notice?

According to the Daily Telegraph you could have gotten $67 for Hodgson to win the Dally M Medal. Four rounds in and Hodgson is suddenly a ‘surprising’ leader of the league pre-eminent award. 10 Dally M votes from 4 matches is a nice start. Picking votes in every game so far is indicative of the impact he has had on the Raiders play, as well. The couple of try assists he had on the weekend only serve to underscore the importance he has in the Raiders attack. Injuries to the Raiders halves have forced him to play the full 80 minutes, some of it out of position in the halves and his game hasn’t suffered for it. Teammates are comparing him to Cameron Smith. He’s been the only serious attacking option the Raiders have had for the last three games. In the Titans game he single-handedly orchestrated all of the Raiders points. At the back end of the victory against the Roosters it was Hodgson who had the wherewithal to slot a forty-twenty down the right edge when the rest of the Raiders side could barely bring themselves to trot down the field to win the game. His defence has remained robust, making over 35 tackles a game and only missing 9 for the season.

Josh Hodgson proved his excellence last season. It’s just only Raiders fans were watching. This season he’s gone to another level.

I guess it’s nice of people to notice.

 

[1] Yassssss

[2] If by changing the way hookers play you mean not tackling (Segeyaro) and eating all the pies (Luke) then you are probably correct.

[3] Not to mention Granville and McCullough

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