Hodgson the key to Canberra’s dreams
What I took out of round one: Cameron Smith is still the most influential player in rugby league.
Forget the fact Smith turns 36 this year. Forget the fact he also still thinks he is the best ref in the NRL.
Forget the fact he is annoying. And a Queenslander.
And that Blues coach Brad Fittler better start crossing his fingers and toes in hope that the Melbourne skipper doesn't decide to make an Origin comeback in 2019.
Forget all that.
The way Smith started the season, he looks as though he could keep playing until he is 50.
Now, on a brighter note. If there was an equivalent to the impact Smith had on the Storm in Round 1, Josh Hodgson was it.
Which is why I can't wait for Friday night, when Canberra hosts Melbourne and rugby league's two best dummy-halves go head-to-head in their own Game of Thrones.
So I contacted the newest member of Canberra's coaching staff to get his take.
Not only is Mick Ennis one of the smartest hookers of the modern game, but he is also now working alongside Hodgson.
Which makes "The Menace" now "Mr Likeable" among Raiders fans.
And what Ennis spoke about when we talked about Smith and Hodgson was insightful.
First off, the way Smith played last Thursday night when the Storm opened the 2019 season with a 22-12 win over the Broncos.
And how Smith was hitting Cameron Munster with those meticulous passes that were travelling 20 metres or more to get straight at Brisbane's edge defence.
"Smith was exceptional," Ennis said. "And the timing. He pulled the reins at just the right time.
"And on the back of the momentum the Storm had, particularly in that first half, he just gassed the Broncos moving them around."
The one thing it highlighted was that the Storm haven't sat around all summer reworking old tricks.
But even so, probably no hooker in the game's history would have been capable of doing what Smith did to the Broncos.
Yet when I read Darren Lockyer's Dally M votes in Monday's paper, for the first time I can ever remember, I felt sorry for Smith.
I couldn't believe he didn't poll a single point - with Lockyer scoring Cameron Munster (3 points), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (2) and Corey Oates (1).
Maybe it was just a case that Smith has been doing this for so long, you can't help but sometimes take it for granted.
No question, Munster was amazing. But could he have done what he did without Smith's genius?
No way is your answer.
There was a lot of talk going into this season that this might be the year Melbourne fell off the cliff on the back of Billy Slater's retirement.
It only took one round to blow that theory apart.
As it did to dispel the notion that the Raiders would be in it to make up the numbers.
Just as with Smith, if Hodgson stays fit, Canberra could do anything. And Hodgson's performance in the 21-0 victory on the Gold Coast last weekend proved that.
While it was again overshadowed in Corey Parker's Dally M votes by Josh Papalii (3 points) and John Bateman (2), who both polled above Hodgson (1), again it highlighted how crucial Hodgson is to the Raiders.
In 2016 Hodgson was challenging Smith for the title as the game's best player. And while it fell apart for the Raiders in 2017, Hodgson showed again last year after returning from his knee injury that he is the glue that keeps this team together.
Ennis also gave a deeper understanding, about Hodgson's real worth that goes beyond what you see on the field.
"You know how people always say that these blokes (the champions) are the last on the field at the end of a training session," Ennis said. "Well, Hodgo genuinely is.
"He stays out there working with his edges, or working with his middles about different plays they might try.
"Then he will spend time working with some of the younger blokes … educating them on different things he has learned over his time playing."
Then, when that is done, Hodgson concentrates on his own game. He just never stops thinking football.
"Dummy-halves drills," Ennis continued. "Then he spends 10 to 15 minutes on his kicking game. Long and short."
Then he will go and watch video of his training, identifying further areas where he can improve.
Hodgson is such a team player that when he was sidelined with that knee injury suffered at the 2017 World Cup, he never missed a single training session after returning to club duties.
Even when his leg was still in a brace, he made rehab staff shuffle his physio sessions around the team's training schedule.
And still, when he takes the field he comes up with big plays, such as the try he laid on for Sia Soliola just before the break in the 21-0 victory on the Gold Coast when he spotted Michael Gordon near the ruck and slipped in a clever kick.
As Ennis explained: "Considering those conditions and how tough it was, for him to come up with that on halftime was vital.
"And then at the back-end of the game he was happy to drive his low kicks into the corner and chase."
At times with the Raiders over recent years they would have wanted to blow Gold Coast off the park.
But last Sunday they played it smart, to the conditions, and it was Hodgson driving the plan.
Although you just know this test against the Storm will tell us more about where the Raiders really stand.
After the off-season the game has had, isn't it great to be back talking footy?