England v New Zealand: England benefit as Hodgson becomes ‘smarter’

THE most recent abiding memory of London for England hooker Josh Hodgson is, from 10,000 miles away, watching as his former Hull KR team-mates endured an embarrassing ordeal against Leeds Rhinos in August’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

Josh Hodgson, seen playing for Hull Kingston Rovers against Wigan before his move to Canberra, says he has grown on and off the field during his time in Australia (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

He is in the capital today, though, hoping to enjoy a far different result to that 50-0 annihilation as England look for the victory that would secure an unassailable 2-0 series lead against the world No1 New Zealand.

The Olympic Stadium rather than Wembley is the venue and for Hodgson, the former Hull KR captain who left to join Canberra Raiders last autumn, it is a mouthwatering prospect.

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Whatever occurs, this Test match will certainly be far closer than the Robins’ big day-out.

Talking to The Yorkshire Post, Hodgson – who spent five years at Hull KR having switched from rivals Hull FC – admitted: “I didn’t get up in the middle of the night to watch the Cup final as I had training in the morning so I couldn’t stay up too late.

“I recorded it but couldn’t resist looking for the score when I woke up. I found it and then watched about 20 minutes but was just devastated and couldn’t watch any more.

“It was good for the club though to get there, their first major final since the Eighties, and a good experience for the lads who have never been there before.

“They will learn from that if they get another chance.”

Hodgson, 26, has certainly learned in his first season in the Australian capital where he has quickly honed his game in the NRL since Canberra paid a six-figure fee for his services.

Always a tough, durable hooker in Super League, he has advanced his game amid the intensity of the Australian competition and seen off stellar rivalry from the likes of 2014 Man of Steel Daryl Clark and Wigan Warriors’ Michael McIlorum to earn a place in Steve McNamara’s squad for this series.

“It has helped me massively being out there especially in my decision-making,” said Hodgson, who starts this afternoon for his country for a second week running against South Sydney’s devilish No 9 Issac Luke.

“Overall, I’ve been a bit smarter as a rugby league player, physically I’ve changed quite a lot, and mentally, too.

“I’ve changed all around as an individual on the field and off it, going away from friends and family and playing in another country has brought me on leaps and bounds.

“I feel at the same time it’s really helped me grow up as well.

“The NRL is probably tougher than I thought. I knew it was going to be hard but with the pre-season and how long that is and the intensity – it’s full-on every week, there’s never an easy game – that brings the best out of you.”

The proof was there on Sunday as Hull-born Hodgson – who made his senior debut for FC in 2009 before moving across the river – fully played his part in that 26-12 success over the Kiwis that sets up this afternoon’s potentially decisive Test.

He even scored as England clawed back from 10-0 down and admitted: “I was worrying for a while whether or not it was going to be given so I didn’t celebrate too much.

“But it was great to get a try, my second for my country after France the week before, but my first in a major Test.

“It was a fantastic occasion and definitely one I’ll remember for rest of my life; the manner in which we played and the way we finished the game capped it all off really.

“We started a little slow but once we hit our straps and put things into practice we’d done in training I thought we looked really good and controlled the game very well.”

Hodgson, who made his England debut in last year’s Four Nations, knows what it would mean to bring significant success to the national side for the first time in eight years.

“It’d be amazing and all we want to do it is to win this series, preferably three-nil but, first and foremost, we want to do a job on Saturday to seal it,” he said.

“It will be tough. We know we have to improve a long way from last week as New Zealand will come out all guns blazing trying to get back on level terms.

“It’s going to be a challenge.”