NRL round 22: BRISBANE 26 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 at Suncorp Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

CURSED Australia centre Justin Hodges wasted no time in completely ruling out the possibility of retirement after he snapped an achilles tendon in Brisbane’s win over St George Illawarra.

“It’s not the end of me,” 31-year-old Hodges told reporters after the Broncos rallied in his absence when he collapsed without a hand on him, taking the ball one off a scrum in the 18th minute at Suncorp Stadium.

“No player ever wants to retire injured. That’s not me. That’s not how I’m built. I’ve had many injuries and it tests your character. It’s not going to be the end. I’ll fight.

“I’ll be bouncing back bigger and better next year. It’s a good challenge. Bring it on.

“I’ll get it done and finish my career the way I wanted.”

The left achilles injury follows a right achilles rupture in 2010 which required a year-long convalescence as well as a knee reconstruction, shoulder reconstruction and chronic lower back and problems.

This year’s will be the second consecutive World Cup Hodges has missed through injury and his run of outs is now comparable with those of fellow Queenslanders Mal Meninga and Brent Tate, who he will have to emulate to re-ignite a glittering carerr,

“I can’t figure it out – his whole body just keeps breaking,” said coach Anthony Griffin. “It took him, probably, a year to get over the last one.”

Brisbane’s ability to win every remaining game and sneak into the finals without Hodges is certainly under question; but so too was their ability to beat the Dragons on Sunday and they did so – only just.

St George Illawarra exploited the defence in the part of the field Hodges would have filled and led 18-14 with 23 minutes remaining.

But after going down with cramp near the posts, Brisbane captain Sam Thaiday made a miraculous recovery to score the try that put his side in front for the final time.

The lead opened out to 26-18 before a late Dragons try made it a nervous final two minutes for 31,191 fans enjoying the Broncos’ first Sunday afternoon home game in more than a year.

The joint venture was also hit with casualties. Prop Trent Merrin’s World Cup involvement is at least under a cloud due to a medial knee ligament injury, while fullback Josh Dugan suffered a suspected broken thumb.

The worst case scenario would see each out for the season. Coach Steve Price said a soft try conceded to Matt Gillett early in the second half, after lead-up from Ben Hunt and Jack Reed, was particularly costly.

“I felt like we were the better team for the majority of the game,” said Price. “A couple of decisions … a lot of wounded blokes out there but they kept finding a way to turn up.

“That’s what what we’re about at this footy club.”

The Broncos were fuming over a number of officiating decisions, not least hooker Andrew McCullough’s disallowed try at 63 minutes.

“The same as everyone else, I thought it was a try,” said Griffin. “There was a bit of separation there but he got the ball down. We are just having to battle through those things at the moment.”

Thaiday said there “were probably times the Dragons should have run away and won that game … to hang in there and win was an enormous effort.’

The happiest man at Suncorp Stadium late Sunday was teenage debutant Jordan Drew, who scored after only 19 minutes.

“I only told my closest friends and family I was playing,” said Drew. “I didn’t put it on facebook or anything.”

BRISBANE 26 (J Drew M Gillett S Thaiday A McCullough tries S Prince 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (D Vidot 2 A Quinlan 2 tries J Dugan 4 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: J Robinson/G Reynolds. Crowd: 31,191.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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