Exclusive – Josh Hodgson on what rugby league can expect after lockdown lifted

ALTHOUGH a return to action is still some way off for players in England, former Hull FC and Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson is one of those edging ever closer to playing again in Australia.

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Josh Hodgson, in action for Canberra Raiders against Gold Coast Titans in March. Picture: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

The Canberra Raiders co-captain joined the rest of the NRL ranks this week in starting team practice once more after the coronavirus outbreak.

With the competition Down Under set to resume on May 28, he is able to give players here an insight into what to expect when they, too, do finally get the green light.

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England international Hodgson told The Yorkshire Post: “It is pretty strict.

“We were back on Monday for a briefing and our first training session was on Wednesday.

“Rules are in place where you turn up in the car park and you still have to stay two metres apart and then queue up in a tent where you get your temperature checked.

“You get asked a lot of questions, get sprayed down, take your shoes off and once you get inside you then have to put on different shoes.

“You can be a bit closer than you are outside but you still can’t hug or do any defensive work like tackling just yet.

“We’re in small groups of 10 and are allowed to put some skills and fitness into some conditioning games.

“It is a bit of a mini pre-season. We’ll probably have three weeks of a top-up but everyone has come back in real good shape which is good and it is great to be back.

“I’ve really missed training and being around all the lads; it makes you appreciate how much you love your job when you can’t do it for a bit.”

The NRL shut down on March 23 after just two rounds of action.

Back in training: Hooker Josh Hodgson.

Obviously, the pandemic has been far worse in the UK than in Australia where there have been fewer than 100 deaths compared to more than 30,000 here.

Hull-born Hodgson, who helped steer Canberra to the Grand Final last season after joining from KR in a £100,000 deal in 2014, said: “The biggest thing is they closed the (state) borders pretty early and got on the front foot.

“It was a blessing in disguise. They were taking a lot of information from places in Europe, what happened there and what went wrong.

“But, thankfully, we’re getting on the right track here.

BRING IT BACK: Canberra Raiders' Josh Hodgson shows his delight during an NRL Qualifying Final match against Melbourne Storm in September last year. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

“There’s still some restrictions in place but, as players, we’re still probably under similar to England; we can’t do a lot.

“We go training but then straight home. We can’t leave the house unless it’s absolutely essential like needing to go get shopping or, if you have kids and you can’t get anyone else to pick up, you can go do that.

“We’ve agreed to that so that we can get the game going again and, hopefully, it happens in England soon, too.”

It has been reported that Canberra players Joe Tapine, Josh Papalii and former St Helens forward Sia Soliola have not been in training this week, having refused to get the flu vaccination jab which is part of the NRL’s strict biosecurity protocols put in place to allow the competition to restart later this month.

It is understood the trio have done so on cultural grounds but Hodgson and his team-mates fully support their stance.

The Yorkshireman, who played more than 100 games for Rovers, having started out with their fierce rivals, explained: “I totally understand their point of view.

Canberra Raiders' Josh Hodgson is tackled during the 2019 NRL Grand Final against the Sydney Roosters. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

“If it is something that they believe in and they feel that strongly about it that they don’t even immunise their kids, it is something that they have practiced for years and probably their families have practiced back when they were kids as well, I think it’s really harsh as a sport to say that ‘you have to have this vaccine just because x, y, z.’

“If the sport genuinely believes that a player is more at risk by not taking a vaccine, that’s that player’s own choice.

“I don’t really see how that affects anyone else other than the player who chooses not to.

“There’s a few boys in our team who have obviously been in the media for this but we back them up 100 per cent whatever decision they make whether it’s one we fully understand or one we don’t.”

Canberra hope to see the players made exempt so they can return to train and play.

Hodgson, 30, added: “Hopefully, that is the case.

“They are all good blokes in our team and have good intentions behind this.

“They are not doing it just to cause a fuss, especially someone like Sia (Soliola) who many people will know in England.

“Anyone that knows Sia will know he is an honest man and a good bloke and has really high morals and beliefs and he stands up to them when it is time to.

“I will support anyone like that.”

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