Trent Hodkinson says the influence of Canterbury coach Des Hasler has been key to his emergence as NSW halfback.
Trent Hodkinson has credited Canterbury coach Des Hasler with his rise to State of Origin-winning halfback.
Last month Hodkinson was the toast of NSW, scoring all six points as the Blues beat Queensland 6-4 in Sydney. He became the first No.7 to lead the state to victory since Andrew Johns in 2005.
It’s a far cry from late 2008 when Hodkinson was gearing up to for a career as a fire sprinkler fitter when a call from Manly’s then recruitment guru Noel Cleal changed everything.
Cleal, who’d worked at Parramatta before reuniting with Hasler at Manly, was a big admirer of the young playmaker who’d starred in an outstanding Eels’ under-16 side that included Jarryd Hayne, Tony Williams and Tim Mannah.
But his progress had stalled due to a serious knee injury and subsequently he’d been cut by the Eels.
“I met Des with Noel Cleal over at Narrabeen,” Hodkinson told AAP.
“It was pretty daunting. I’d just come off a knee reconstruction and was working on a job site.
“Dessy took one look at me and the first thing he said was ‘we’ll have to bulk you up little fella’.
“But I was lucky. Crusher (Cleal) and him showed some faith in me … I thought maybe my chance had gone.”
Hasler then sent Hodkinson to play for the Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in the Queensland Cup, Manly’s feeder club at the time.
His only season saw him clock up 144 points and he won selection for the Queensland residents side, leading the team to a 34-6 win over their NSW counterparts in the curtain-raiser to Origin three in Brisbane.
It was enough to convince Hasler he could cut it in the NRL and in 2010 he was handed the Manly No.7 shirt vacated by Matt Orford.
An encouraging debut season saw the cashed-up Bulldogs come knocking with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It was hard to leave Manly, but it was too good an opportunity,” Hodkinson said.
“My first year was OK, it could have been better and then Des joined.
“I’d heard a few whispers, but didn’t think it would happen. I never thought for a minute he’d leave Manly.
“But I was delighted when he did because he’d been good for me.”
But Hasler’s arrival coincided with another cruel run of injuries for Hodkinson as he underwent shoulder and knee reconstructions.
He was also coming off contract and feared he wouldn’t get the chance to earn another one. But Hasler assured him he’d be looked after.
“He’d put me in the video sessions with the boys and kept me in the loop,” he said.
“He knew how tough it was for me. Blokes can feel left out of the team when they’re injured and I will always be grateful to him for that.
“I had five games in NSW Cup last year and thought I’d be there for a while, but then I got my chance in first grade and now I’m playing Origin.”
NSW selectors churned through five halfbacks before stumbling on Hodkinson and the unassuming 25-year-old admits he’s still not got his head around what happened in game two.
“It’s a bit surreal. It happened so fast,” he said.
“I don’t get too many tries but I still had the kick to come and thankfully it sailed over.”
As for Hasler’s response when he returned to Belmore: “He didn’t say much, I think it was ‘well done’, and then he walked off!
“But that’s Des, he never let’s you get too far head of yourself.”