Is Josh Hodgson the world’s best English player?

When Josh Hodgson left these shores at the end of the 2014 season to try his luck with Canberra Raiders in the NRL, it’s fair to say that the reaction was a little under the radar.

No one seemed to think, at least in public, that he was going to be anything particularly special. We’ll see how it goes, seemed to be the prevailing opinion.

A season and a half later, Hodgson, it is fair to say, has been a real hit Down Under. So much so in fact, that there is a strong claim that he is currently the world’s best English player.

 

 

One of Hodgson’s coaches at Hull KR, Craig Sandercock, became incredibly, and perhaps untypically, animated at a press conference at the Etihad Stadium in 2014, after his team had beaten Hull FC at Magic Weekend.

The reason was that he had been asked about Hodgson and his potential as a player.

Sandercock was in no doubt that Hodgson had the potential to be something very special indeed, and his sincerity and conviction were clearly seen in his eyes. This was much more than just a coach backing one of his top players.

After leaving Rovers for the NRL, Hodgson played in every game for the Raiders in 2015, showing that he could physically and mentally adapt to the demands of the Australian competition. He averaged 33 tackles a game during that time, and made 12 try assists.

Many European players have struggled in recent times to nail down a regular spot in NRL first teams, but Hodgson has found the tougher nature of the NRL compared to Super League no issue at all.

He also plays big minutes, and this season we have seen a retread of him moving into the back row for sections of games, something which he used to do plenty of at Hull KR.

This ability to play at 13 or in the second row, and contribute carries and hits as well as playmaking, was a feature of Hodgson’s game that many seemed to ignore.

Canberra team-mate Jack Wighton admitted recently that he did not know about Hodgson’s versatility.

“Not many of us knew, we were really surprised when they chucked him in lock and how well he went,” he said.

“He’s got the step, he’s got the ball skills and everyone knows how tough he is. It’s good to see Hodgo change it up in positions there sometimes.”

Hull KR fans were well aware of it, though, and they also appreciated Hodgson’s ability to produce game-turning moments of skill and magic.

Kicking 40-20s from dummy half was a feature of his game back then too, and he often put Rovers on the front foot with one of his siege gun efforts.

He has been around the top of the Dally M leaderboard in Australia for much of this season, leading it for long periods.

By any stretch of the imagination, that makes him a success.

The stats would seem to back that assessment up too.

Tellingly, Hodgson has made only four errors this season. Compare that with fellow Englishmen and St George-Illawarra stand-off Gareth Widdop, who has made 21.

To play at hooker, where handling the ball and making decisions are key on almost every play, and make so few mistakes is the sign of a cool headed player who executes well.

The Raiders have scored 78 tries in total this season, with Hodgson grabbing three of those, and assisting with nine more. Only North Queensland Cowboys can match that total of 78 so far this campaign.

Hodgson has made 145 runs for 1218 metres in total, and made four line breaks, 44 hit ups, 11 off loads, 620 tackles (missing 54) so far in 2016.

Cameron Smith, widely seen as the world’s best hooker, has made 107 runs for 890 metres, 11 tackle breaks, 13 try assists, 12 hit ups, one line break and 12 off loads, and 705 tackles (missing 32). He has made five errors

Michael Ennis, of the NRL table-topping Cronulla Sharks, has made 98 runs for 728 metres, has made two line breaks, 10 hit ups, 11 off loads, 639 tackles (missing 41), and has made 13 errors.

Roosters captain Jake Friend, another of the NRL‘s top hookers, has made 79 runs for 455 metres, two line breaks, 30 hit ups, 11 off loads, 960 tackles (missing 40), and has made 17 errors.

As a snapshot comparison, it can be seen that Hodgson’s stats match up with the world’s best, and it could be argued that his versatility and physicality, especially when it comes to carrying, could give him an edge over his rivals.

Hodgson looks to have few contenders for the title of world’s best English player at the moment. Sam Burgess continues to readjust to rugby league, while James Graham continues to be solid.

Zak Hardaker has a long way to go yet to establish himself in the NRL, while Elliot Whitehead, a team-mate of Hodgson’s at Raiders, does not quite have the starry X-factor that Hodgson is developing.

Of course, the real test of greatness comes on the international stage, and Hodgson is yet to make a real impact in an England jersey.

Against New Zealand last year Hodgson was steady and solid, without being outstanding. The series as a whole was pretty disappointing in terms of quality, however.

But Hodgson was part of an England team which actually won something, and he wil have more chances to establish himself as an international in the Four Natons of this year, and next year’s World Cup.

The final judgement of how good a player is should probably be left to his team-mates.

Hodgson’s fellow hooker at Canberra Kurt Baptiste, views Hodgson as a great competitor, a natural winner who has supreme rugby league ability.

“Sometimes when I’ve come on he’s gone into lock and he’s played that ball-playing-lock role,” Baptiste said.

“I think that helps out the halves as well because he gives a good pass for the halves. He’s really versatile, he can play a lot of positions, Hodgo, he can kick as well.

“It’s good having him on there, I love playing with him. He’s really competitive, that’s what all the boys love about him. He always wants to win and when you have someone like him on the team it’s really good.”

With Hodgson looking set to stay with the Raiders until at least the end of the 2018 season, it seems the Hull-born hooker will have a chance to really stake a claim to be one of England‘s best ever rugby league exports.

 

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