IT’S August 25 2012, three minutes into the second half of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Warrington’s veteran Australian fullback Brett Hodgson has just been smashed by Leeds prop Kylie Leuluai and 79,180 fans are hushed as he receives treatment.
The 34-year-old eventually gets to his feet, moves around a little gingerly, and continues. Thirty minutes later, he is named Lance Todd Trophy medalist as man of the match in his side’s 35-18 victory, after setting up two tries and scoring one himself.
History may end up recording Hodgson as rugby league’s last concussed hero in a big game, as our medical professionals increasingly get their way in cracking down on players continuing on with head knocks.
But Hodgson is not railing against the medicos. He may have achieved one of his greatest moments as sportsman while fuzzy-headed but the 78kg fullback reckons that … maybe he should not have been allowed to.
Every now and then, he reveals to A-List after training at the University of Chester Warrington Campus, he gets little reminders of the possible long-term cost of such heroics.
“I’ve had my fair share of concussions and probably don’t remember things as well as I’d like to sometimes,” he says, sipping a coffee.
“Potentially, if someone’s been cleaned up plenty of times, there’re going to be issues there. There’s no doubt about that.
“It’s not that obvious but there might be things I try to remember (from) 1o years back which you may that I may struggle to picture. You know, it’s not a thing that I’m concerned about by any means but whether that’s down to getting concussed, who knows?”
Hodgson isn’t worried enough about the issue to follow the reports from the US, where athletes’ brains are being examined to ascertain the long-term effects of such head-knocks. But he says if someone had told him he could not have returned to the field and won the Challenge Cup for Warrington, that would have been fair enough.
“To be honest, I agree with it … we want to keep going and get up and show how tough we are when we’re playing,” the former Western Suburbs, Parramatta and Wests Tigers custodian says.
“But the fact is, it can do damage to you long-term.
“It’s not always going to be met with positive feedback and I’m sure I’m against the majority of players in the competition.
“What level of concussion justifies a doctor coming in and saying ‘get off’?”
But would it have been a good thing if he had been prevented from continuing at Wembley? “Well … yeah. I think if that’s the rule that’s set in place, whether or not it is going to be to that extent is yet to be determined. But … you’d have to just – whether you agree with it or not – just say ‘that’s the way it is’. “
It takes one of our bravest warriors to admit that bravery may indeed be foolhardy. Ever since he 1997, when Wests coach Tom Raudonikis had his Magpies team carrying logs up Chilis Hill in Leumeah, Hodgson hasn’t shirked work or danger.
But the game he will leave this year or next has changed.
“I’ve never felt that I’ve been unjustly treated in terms of being looked after,” he stresses. “ You see kickers being protected and yet we stand at the back and are able to be absolutely poleaxed as soon as the ball touches our arms.
“(But) there’s nothing wrong in my eyes. Whether you’re 120 kg or 70 kilos, you’re playing a contact sport and you’re going to get hit.”
While most of his fellow Super League players are in uproar about the death of the shoulder charge, Hodgson thinks it’s the right move. He’s never been afraid to swim against the tide.
While Wests and Balmain players lined up to sign with the new joint venture in 2000, Hodgson took less to link up with Parramatta.
“It was a little bit of a loyalty thing with Tommy,” he recalls. “As players, we were told that the job option was still open and Tommy was telling us that he was a good chance of getting it.
“And I got a phone call from someone at Balmain saying that’s not an option, ‘I’ve got the job and Tommy hasn’t’ (Wayne Pearce was the first coach of the club).”
Wests Tigers finally got their man in 2004. A year later, they won the premiership – before the team disintegrated.
Hodgson says now: “There’s no doubt that Scotty Prince, losing him, was big for the club because it was nothing to do with finances – he just wanted to get back to Queensland.
“That then put more pressure on (Robbie) Farah, Benji (Marshall) and myself as playmakers.”
He says Wests Tigers made a decision to cut him after an injury –affected 2007 and there wasn’t much interest from other NRL clubs, bar one other which he won’t name.
“I’ve missed the boat on everything,” he chuckles. “Super League was before I made my debut – I got an ARL loyalty payment back then – and then I came over here when the pound dropped and the NRL salary cap’s gone up!”
The move to England has brought a Man of Steel Award in 2009, repeated Dream Team selections and success at Wembley. It is not supposed to end until the conclusion of next season but he reveals: “even at the end of this, I’ll see how the body’s holding up, how I’m playing and whether the club still sees fit that next year’s a playing (season).”
He and his family are deeply involved in village life in Yorkshire but Hodgson wants to return home and coach when his boots have been placed on the hook for the last time.
But many will remember him for one incident and one only – Gorden Tallis flinging him over the sideline like his jersey was being removed from the clothes line without him in it, at Homebush in 2002.
The rise of YouTube has only perpetuated the fascination with Tallis’ King Kong impersonation that night.
Hodgson insists: “I’m alright with it. I get ribbed about it, which is good fun. The fact is, I made him famous because no-one knew who he was before that.
“It’s not like he was a reserve grade player. He was one of the most intimidating players when it came State Of Origin football. He just got a hold of me and flung me, didn’t he?
“There are certain things that happen in your career that are great, and there are certain things you have to just cop on the chin and go ‘oh well, probably not idea that that happened but it did happen so get on with it’.”
The Tallis incident has been good for one thing, Hodgson concedes as our chat draws to a close. Queensland have not lost an Origin series since he left Australia – with Darren Lockyer’s last-ditch intercept of a pass out of dummy half in game three, 2006, putting a dynasty in place.
When I ask Hodgson what he remembers of the game, of the start of the Maroon epoch, he offers a wry grin.
“I remember being at dummy half when I passed the ball. That’s the best thing about the Tallis thing – no-one remembers that – until you bring it up.”
BRETT HODGSON ON….
“I’ve had several young kids speak to me about ‘what’s it like over there’ and potentially going “I wouldn’t be surprised if the next four or five years saw an influx.
“There still be some imports who come over here at the end of their careers or young kids who aren’t going to make it in Australia who come over and still do well over here. But the quality of Australian players coming over here will diminish.”
TOMMY RAUDONIKIS AND WESTS
“You knew, turning up, you weren’t going to compete against the better sides in the competition. That’s what I attribute to being able to get up all the time and some of the mental toughness to be still playing.”
“Probably it’s five years too late. The Exiles concept would have got to the stage where it was a real hit on the calendar. I think it’s a work in progress and it remains to be seen if it hits the heights it’s supposed to.”
“Everything to me happens for a reason. I didn’t want to leave the Tigers but I did and came over here and got some great successes both individually and with teams. I’m very grateful to still be playing.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK