Justin Hodges traces Origins back to early slip-ups

IT'S a measure of the man that Justin Hodges rates the worst of his 22 Origin games as one of the most significant in his highly-successful career.

Ahead of his 23rd and final Origin next week, the Broncos captain said his embarrassing debut for Queensland in 2002, which featured two rookie in-goal howlers that gifted New South Wales two tries, had been instrumental in shaping his career.

"To be honest, if I had not had that experience, I probably would not be the person I am today," a candid Hodges told APN.

"How I handled it I'm sure not only made me a lot better player, but also a lot better person.

"When I look back on it now, it's probably one of the things that sparked my career."

Origin was anything but kind to Hodges in the early years as he ruptured his ACL in the following year's series.

His former teammate Darren Lockyer said the mental toughness to overcome injuries had set the champion centre apart.

"Hodgo has had to fight back from a number of serious injuries that would have forced a lot of players to retire because they didn't have the mental edge he possesses," Lockyer told APN.

Lockyer, who drew on his own forgettable debut for Australia against New Zealand to motivate himself to become the best player he could be, said like Hodges, his Origin swansong (36th game) was a series decider in Brisbane.

"I remember it was a massive relief to exit on such a high," he recalled.

"You can only wish the same for Hodgo, who has done so much for the (Queensland) jersey."

Hodges' early playing days included a bitter run-in with his Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, who dumped him to the lower grades after learning he had secretly signed to play for the Roosters in 2002.

He also faced some off-field issues, including a difficult battle with depression when he hit rock bottom and came close to throwing away his league career.

But as he did with so many opponents, he beat them all.

On Wednesday night, he will pull on the maroon jumper for the last time with up to 50,000 Queensland fans in his corner.

He will play with the same passion, aggression and desire that's made him public enemy number one with NSW fans, and also fans of opposition NRL teams.

"My philosophy is you never give up," the 33-year-old said. "When people try and put you down or challenge you, you always try and rise above it and prove everyone wrong."

Hodges has certainly proven plenty of critics wrong over the years.


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