Accidental hero: Trent Hodkinson scores the only try of the match. Photo: Anthony JohnsonHe was the accidental NSW halfback who has become a State of Origin hero.
Trent Hodkinson’s name wasn’t even being uttered as a potential Blues No.7 when this season began, with Laurie Daley all but promising the job to Mitchell Pearce and others ahead of him in the pecking order. But the combination of Pearce’s fateful visit to Kings Cross last month, which led to his exile from Daley’s side, and a strong start to the year with his club team Canterbury laid the groundwork for this most unlikely success story.
It could not have been capped with a more perfect ending. In an dogged encounter at ANZ Stadium NSW only scored six points but they were enough to end Queensland’s interminable stranglehold on the interstate contest. Hodkinson hadn’t played in any of those eight previous series, but two matches into his Origin career he led them to the history-making win.
All six of those Blues points were scored by Hodkinson, who ran to the line and pierced a hole in the Maroons defence, then showed nerves of steel to fire over the match and series-winning conversion.
It was the kind of calmness under pressure that had convinced Daley and selection advisor Bob Fulton to elevate the 25-year-old to the most intense of rugby league arenas. Twice this season he had notched thrilling late victories for the Bulldogs with field goals and been an almost unparalleled marksman in the NRL this year as a goalkicker. They pale in comparison, of course, to the high of toppling Queensland’s dynasty on Wednesday night in Sydney.
Hodkinson’s moment came on an evening in which he coincidentally came up against his former Manly club-mate Daly Cherry-Evans, who replaced him when he left for the Bulldogs and has gone onto greater heights since.
For days leading up to the match all the attention had been Cherry-Evans, not Hodkinson. Would Queensland’s new No.7 be fit to play? Would NSW attack the halfback’s dodgy knee? Cherry-Evans will have expected to have a target on his back. His had been the most talked about knee, or any limb for that matter, in the lead-up to Origin II, with his presence only confirmed on game day when he woke with no post-training dramas.
There can be little doubt about how sore he will be when he wakes on Thursday. They say there is nowhere to hide in the Origin arena and the Manly playmaker was given as brutal a demonstration of that as possible. Queensland tried to shield Cherry-Evans by running traffic away from him in the early stages, with Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith taking chief responsibility with the ball in hand and with the boot. It was only ever going to be so long, however, before the Blues zeroed in on their primary target. Robbie Farah, the Blues hooker, took it upon himself to be the Maroons No.7’s worst nightmare.