Just like the Tigers of 2005? Hodgson says current crop is like 2004
By Adrian Proszenko 22 March 2018 — 5:06pm
It would be outrageously premature to compare, after just two rounds, the current Wests Tigers team to the one that took the joint-venture outfit to its first and only premiership back in 2005. But if there is a parallel to be drawn then it is appropriate that it is done so by Brett Hodgson, a star from those glory days who is back at the club as part of coach Ivan Cleary’s brains trust. “It does remind me of ‘04 when Tim Sheens brought in a whole host of new players to the club,” Hodgson told Fairfax Media. “We didn’t have the success that we obviously did in ‘05, but it was a bit of a changing of the culture at that stage as well. “I definitely see similarities in that. In terms of end result, we’re too far away to judge that obviously.”
Hodgson is back at the club, as an assistant to Cleary and also the coach of the Magpies NSW Cup side. His presence is already being felt. Both of those teams are undefeated. The goalkicking work he has done with Tui Lolohea has already paid dividends, as evidenced by the fullback’s match-winning sideline conversion against the Roosters. Perhaps most importantly, ‘Hodgo’ - alongside fellow prodigal sons Benji Marshall and veteran trainer Ronnie Palmer - provides a vital link to the club’s past as it steps into a new era.
Much like the 2005 Tigers, nobody gives the current mob a chance. Many have written off the early wins against the Roosters and Melbourne as a fluke, a case of getting the premiership heavyweights before they get into gear. However, another big scalp, Brisbane at Campbelltown on Friday night, will prompt the rest of the competition to take notice. Regardless, Hodgson couldn’t be happier to return to the fold. The former fullback has resettled back in Campbelltown after a coaching stint in England. “I’m loving it,” Hodgson said. “Getting the opportunity to come home, it was never something I was going to let slide. It’s been everything which I wanted it to be, which is brilliant.
“I definitely see that everyone is happy at the place. It’s really positive that everyone has bought into what Ivan is trying to achieve and we’ve had a bit of success in the first few rounds.” The former NSW custodian, even during his playing days, always had a desire to transition into the clipboard ranks. His ultimate ambition is to become an NRL head coach “at some point”, but for now couldn’t be happier learning his trade under Cleary. “It’s something I wanted to be part of my future, so now I’ve got the opportunity at the Tigers, it’s amazing,” he said.
Hodgson made his name as one of the club’s great fullbacks, and returns at a time when there is much conjecture over who should now own the position. The departure of James Tedesco has left a huge hole, which to date has been capably filled by Lolohea and Corey Thompson. Hodgson is well positioned to provide an appraisal of both, particularly given he spent the past two seasons with Thompson at Widnes. “There’s no doubt when he’s happy and enjoying his footy, he’s a very dangerous and capable player,” Hodgson said. “For him to take his opportunity against Melbourne was very good. The competition they have for that position - or if Corey or Nofa (David Nofoaluma) is on the wing - there’s an element of everyone working hard for each other to get themselves into the team. “Corey’s ability to beat a bloke one on one is brilliant. He’s so light on his feet and his balance is exceptional. “His energy levels are like an Energiser bunny, he just keeps going. It was epitomised when they had an opportunity and he was at marker against Melbourne, they kicked it back to the posts, he got a hand on it and got to the ball somehow. “That’s what Corey does, he’s very gifted in terms of his balance. Winger or fullback, he’s a very capable player.”
Hodgson can only recognise a handful of familiar faces at Concord. Benji is back, John Skandalis and Paul Whatuira still have roles at the club and Chris Lawrence was just a Tiger cub coming through the grades when Hodgson was playing. Only time will tell if they and the many new recruits will be able to gel as capably as Sheens’ underdogs. “Internally, the last thing we’re thinking of is semifinals, but you want to start off as well as you can,” Hodgson said. “I feel what [footy general manager] Kelly Egan, Ivan and [CEO] Justin Pascoe are doing at the club now is heading in that direction. It’s very exciting.”