A new game of the year contender graced the screens in Round 8 as crowds returned to New South Wales venues and two coaches moved one step further down a greasy pole. Here are my talking points for the weekend.
The Canberra Raiders have had some superb captains; Dean Lance, Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Alan Tongue and Jarrod Croker. You can now add Josh Hodgson to that list.
That the Raiders English hooker has been appointed joint skipper of the Canberra Raiders alongside Jarrod Croker is a great move for the club for a number of reasons.
I just wanted to take the opportunity to let all of our members and fans know about an important decision we’ve made today for the team and our club.
Ricky and I have been discussing for… https://t.co/0nwVY1r9IS
— Jarrod Croker (@Jarrodcroker) December 20, 2018
Firstly, Hodgson and his wife Kirby are delightful humans. They’ve not only committed to the club long-term but they’ve also added two great new Canberrans since they’ve arrived in their kids George and Ivy.
Hodgson, in spite of his heavy Yorkshire accent, is an outstanding spokesman for the club. He handles himself brilliantly and commands respect from the media. While he is easy to deal with, he is no one’s chump.
I’m on pretty good terms with Hodgson and I was asking him about John Bateman as early as April this year. Hodgson played a very straight bat. Fair enough, too. Discretion is a great attribute to have as an NRL captain.
However, while being great off the field is a crucial attribute for an NRL captain, the biggest value Hodgson provides is his skill as an on-field leader. When he turned up at the club at the beginning of 2015, not much at all was known about the English hooker. He quickly set about displaying that he was one of the shrewdest buys that the club has ever made, arguably only exceeded by the signing of Mal Meninga.
His skill as a footballer is clear. In the present game, only Cam Smith can be said to be a better number 9. Hodgson’s tackling is brilliant. His passing is precise. His ability to draw defenders, put them in two minds and create gaps is superb. His kicking game is outstanding.
He was sorely missed through injury for the first half of the 2018 season. The Raiders looked a different side when Hodgson came back and was controlling the ruck. While the likes of Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii also have strong claims, Hodgson is clearly the Raiders’ best player.
In spite of all of these brilliant attributes, you can be assured coach Ricky Stuart really struggled with making Hodgson joint captain.
From 1995 to 1996, Stuart was the proud Canberra skipper, taking over the role from the retiring Mal Meninga. For reasons that I never understood, the captaincy was removed from Stuart and given to Laurie Daley.
I suspect the pain of that still hurts Stuart to this day. It is that pain which I believe meant Terry Campese was retained as captain by Stuart long after it was clear to all that he was no longer in the club’s best 17 due to his recurrent knee issues.
It wasn’t until Campese had officially parted ways with the club that Stuart appointed a new captain. And it was an obvious choice in Jarrod Croker. Born in Goulburn just weeks before Ricky Stuart would win the Clive Churchill Medal for being the best player in the Raiders’ 1990 grand final win, Croker is a man of great integrity.
The lad from G-Town loves his horses but loves his footy even more. Playing his junior league with the Goulburn Stockmen, he was a crucial part of the Raiders’ 2008 Toyota Cup-winning side and debuted the following year in first grade.
He hasn’t been out of it since.
When the Raiders needed a man to take the helm in 2014, he was the obvious choice. In an era that is prone to mercenaries and journeymen, Croker is the ultimate club man.
Having just turned 28 years of age, he has already played 230 first grade games for the club. All going to plan in 2019, he will be the second most capped Raider of all time, after only Jason Croker – whose record he could eclipse in the next three years.
The co-captain is only the third Raider to score 100 tries for Canberra (Jason Croker and Brett Mullins being the others) and is just the fifth player to score 100 tries and kick 500 goals in first-grade rugby league in Australia.
Further, he became only the seventh player after Terry Lamb, Greg Alexander, Ryan Girdler, Hazem El Masri, Darren Lockyer and Luke Burt to score 100 tries and over 1000 points for a single club.
He has scored 114 tries and kicked 656 goals to amass 1768 points for the Raiders. His goal kicking accuracy is over 80 per cent. He’s a very handy player indeed.
And did I mention his integrity? Croker is an honourable and courageous man. He has been – and will continue to be – a great leader of the club.
He loves the club.
Adding Hodgson in a joint captain role can only help the club.
The modern game of rugby league moves very fast. Decisions are often made very quickly by the referees and play moves on just as fast. The reality is that, for the captain to have the best chance of having meaningful input to the referees, they need to be in the centre of the park and on the field for the majority of the game. That means that the best options for captain are the halves, the lock forward and, of course, the hooker.
Has anyone ever seen a more influential captain that Cameron Smith? There is no question he is the referee whisperer. However, he’s also always in the heat of the battle. He is most frequently where the play is. And where you find the play you’ll also find the referees.
For seasons, I’ve watched Jarrod Croker’s frustration with how the referees are running the game, his arms waving in clear annoyance with the proceedings. However, he’s been out on the flank and by the time he could get to the man with the whistle, the play has already moved on.
Having Hodgson in the middle of the park will provide Croker with more than able support to alleviate the frustration I know he often feels.
The only possible issue I can see with the Raiders now having joint captains is if the on-field referees insist on dealing only with one captain. However, as there are two referees on the field, that approach would seem rather hypocritical.
The appointment of joint captains at the Raiders is a very logical step that recognises the state of the modern game, as well as utilising the considerable skills and abilities of both Croker and Hodgson to their fullest.
That can only be good for Canberra.