Melbourne Storm are wary of the damage Justin Hodges can do from fullback after he helped orchestrate their 2006 NRL title defeat from there.
Melbourne are on high alert for Justin Hodges, painfully aware of the devastation he can wreak for Brisbane from fullback in Friday’s high-stakes NRL final round clash at AAMI Park.
Hodges shift from centre to fullback has been pivotal in Brisbane’s surge into finals contention since he replaced injured Josh Hoffman at the back in round 23.
But the Storm also remember only too well his previous stint at fullback for Brisbane in 2006, coincidentally also starting in round 23 when he replaced an injured Darius Boyd.
From that point the Broncos won six of their next eight games, including a 15-8 grand final win over Melbourne, with Hodges scoring.
“Whenever you get a dangerous player and you get the footy in his hands as much as possible he’s going to cause you some problems,” said Melbourne Test fullback Billy Slater on Thursday.
“He (Hodges) has been playing some great footy over the last month when he’s had that roving role.
“He’s set up a fair few of their tries over the last fortnight and it’s something that we’re going to have to be very wary of.”
Both teams are desperate for a victory to cement their place in the finals series or they must rely on other results falling their way.
With both Slater and Hodges being noted big game performers, Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin backed his man to shine.
“That’s the special thing about this time of year, with your key players the expectations become a lot bigger,” Griffin said.
“When the pressure is on I am sure at some stage he (Hodges) will be involved in it – he’s done a great job the last couple of weeks.”
While Melbourne are wary of Hodges, Slater warned that fellow Test star Sam Thaiday’s suspension this week was a big blow for Brisbane.
Teenager Corey Oates and ex-Test prop Ben Hannant are in line to fill the vacant forward role.
“He (Thaiday) is a huge loss for them,” Slater said.
The sixth-placed Storm boast a formidable record over eighth-placed Brisbane, winning 19 of 23 meetings including a round 20 30-8 win.
Griffin wasn’t reading too much into that.
“When we played them six weeks ago we had two or three chances at 12-4 but didn’t finish them off,” Griffin said.
“We would like to think we are a better football side at the moment and in better form than a couple of months ago.”
Slater said his team wasn’t about to rest on their record when the stakes were so high.
“Personally this feels like the first final because of the chance that the loser could miss out.
“When there’s that chance of it being your last game of the year you’re certainly not going to leave anything in the tank.
“We are in that situation and so are the Broncos.”