In 2012 Trent Hodkinson did his medial knee ligament, had two shoulder surgeries six weeks apart and thought about giving the game away. Little did he know that two years later he would make his State of Origin debut and help NSW end an eight-year drought.
Despite sitting on the sidelines for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldog’s 2012 Grand Final loss, and being unable to cement a spot as their starting half, Hodkinson signed on for another two years with the club.
In 2013 he fought his way into the team and was appointed goal-kicker, finishing the year with a total of 20 games and 64 goals. The following year the Dogs started their season with wins against heavyweights Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs.
“I just felt as though they’d shown me a bit of faith and I wanted to repay them in a way and the best way to do that was go to out there and do your best for the club,” Hodkinson told the Bloke in a Bar Podcast.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think of Origin because you’ve got all these other halves that are killing it and that are grouse players so there’s no chance, not one thought.
“I remember having a really good pre-season and the team was doing well, we were winning games and we flew back from somewhere and at the airport one of the coaching staff that might’ve been involved was like ‘NSW, you’re in’ just geeing up and I was like ‘please, don’t be stupid, you’re off your head.’
“Word gets around and Rugby League is a small community and he’s been involved in NSW so I thought ‘hold on…anyway well see what happens.’
“Later that night, it was a Sunday night, I got the call from Laurie Daley and he said ‘you’re good to go’ and I was like ‘wow’.
“It was quite emotional and the Mrs saw me on the phone and I gave her the thumbs up without giving too much away to Laurie, just act cool.”
NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley had moved away from his favoured halves pairing from 2013 – Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney and opted to go with Bulldogs teammates Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, with Jarryd Hayne returning to fullback over Josh Dugan.
Hodkinson, 25, had a big task ahead of him as he was going up against the greatest Queensland team in history, with a star-studded line-up that included Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith.
“I was excited because you’re fresh and you’ve got an opportunity to help the team win, possibly for the first time in eight years,” he said.
“You know the side you’re coming up against and you think ‘these guys are invincible, you’ll never replicate that team ever again’.
“I think it was the first team photo early on and you actually put on the kit and you’re just like ‘wow’, you look down and you’ve got the shorts and the jersey on, even the socks - the sky blue, it was pretty cool.”
The NSW team had spent a week and a bit in camp at Coffs Harbour, avoiding newspapers and TV reports so when they arrived in Brisbane for Game I it was a whole different environment and something Hodkinson had never experienced.
“Game day, just rolling into Suncorp and seeing the amount of people, even early on when we got there pulling in was crazy, you still can’t put words to it really,” Hodkinson said.
“Finally, getting ready, doing the warm up inside, two-minute bell rings and you’re just like wow, trying to stay as calm as you can and then running out at Suncorp…man, the energy there, even though we were getting booed that just lifts you.
“I think sometimes getting booed is even better than getting cheered, really, sometimes it can work the other way and it was vibrating…everything was vibrating, flames coming out, you’re just running out looking right up the back and there’s not one empty seat.
“I noticed straight away the speed of the game was extremely fast and physical, you feel it and it’s what everyone said it would be leading up to it.
“The thing I noticed was you just had that much confidence in the bloke next to you that no matter how gassed he was, he was going turn up for you and that’s what won us the game in the end in that first one was our defence.”
After beating Queensland 12-8 in their own backyard in Game I, Hodkinson was vital in NSW’s 6-4 victory at ANZ Stadium in Game II, crossing for their lone try and slotting the match and series-winning conversion that saw the Blues claim their first series win since 2005.
“The funny thing was I don’t know if it was because I scored or not but in my mind, I was never missing that kick, it was weird, I’d never felt like that before because usually those sideline kicks are the mental ones that just hammer you with doubt,” he said.
“Haynesy ran off but our whole team was back on the fifty so when the full-time siren went we were just hugging each other and the crowd was going berserk...it was so surreal.”