Yorkshireman Hodgson is set to feature in Canberra Raiders’ opening game of the season against Wests Tigers on Sunday, having missed most of last term due to rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It will be the first campaign since he moved to Australia from Hull KR in 2014 that he has not faced his old adversary Smith, the iconic former Melbourne Storm, Queensland State of Origin and Australian captain who announced his retirement earlier this week at the age of 37.
Smith led Storm – who started their title defence with a stunning 26-18 win over South Sydney yesterday – to victory in the 2020 Grand Final to bow out on a high and remains an inspiration not only due to his enduring quality but longevity, too.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Canberra co-captain Hodgson, 31, said: “Cam Smith was a bit like a fine wine; he seemed to get better the older he got.
“You always love playing against not only the best teams in the world but the best players and he was definitely one of them.
“I loved the challenge of playing against him. He always had his wits about him and has proably been one of the most adaptable players the game has seen.
“From when he debuted 19 years ago to how the game is now, it’s certainly changed. To not only keep up with that but be at the top of the game and be so consistent is a phenomenal achievement and it’s always sad to see the great players of the game retire.
“We’ve had a fair few over the last few years and he’s another one now. As he showed again last year, at 37, to play the way he did and get the Dally M hooker of the year and win the competition again with Melbourne, it’s just testament to what a player he is.
“I think he’ll go down as probably the greatest rugby league player there’s been.”
Hull-born Hodgson has recovered from a second ACL having also suffered the same injury on the opposite knee with England at the 2017 World Cup.
Seeing how Smith performed at such a high level for so long, he is encouraged to do the same.
“I’ll be playing at 31 this year and feel as fit as I ever have,” said Hodgson, who started out his career with Hull FC in 2009 before making his name at their fierce rivals across the city.
“After doing my knee, the upper body got a fair rest; I got rid of all the knocks and stuff like the rib cartilage all settled down, too, which is good and obviously you’re not running for a long time so the legs feel real fresh.
“I’m really confident I’ve got another four or five years in me if there’s no more injuries. That’s the main thing. I’ve had both knees done now so, hopefully, that’s the end of that and, body-wise, I think I will be all fine.
“The mental side of it, when I speak to friends who have retired and ex-players you catch up with, usually it’s down to the want; how much you want it and that drifts away as they get older.
“But I’m still chomping at the bit like I’m 18 waiting to get that success and still working hard every day to strive to be better.
“While that is still there, I’ll still be around for a while yet.”
Hodgson has proved a big hit in the NRL given the way he has become so influential at the heart of Canberra’s play. He helped guide them to their first Grand Final in 25 years in 2019 where they just fell short against Sydney Roosters, who they also lost narrowly to in last year’s semi-final.
Hodgson is one of four Englishmen in Ricky Stuart’s side with England colleagues Elliott Whitehead and George Williams plus former Wigan Warriors prop Ryan Sutton.
A fifth – John Bateman – has, of course, returned to Wigan this season but Hodgson said: “We’re just itching to get going again.
“From last year’s side, Nick Cotric left (to Canterbury Bullodgs) and John but we’ve a couple of great replacements.
“There’s Hudson Young, who will start back-row at the weekend and Curtis Scott, who obviously missed most of last year through injury, will be in at right centre. It’s been a really good pre-season; we’ve been working really hard and had to squash in what we’d normally do in four months – or a little more – into 10 or 12 weeks so there’s certainly been some tough weeks.
“But you’ve just got to get it done before the season starts and we’re itching to get going, especially me on a personal level after missing so much of last year.
“We had a hit-out a couple of weeks ago against the Roosters.
“I played the first 40 and the knee felt all good. I’ve not felt anything for a while now. I’m just looking forward to getting back going – and doing what I love.”
Which is not only good news for Canberra but, with a World Cup at the end of the year, for Shaun Wane’s England as well.
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