THERE was a point when a gutted Josh Hodgson feared he would have little chance of playing for England this autumn and, instead, would fly home from Australia merely to visit family and friends in Hull.
However, after successfully fighting back from a knee reconstruction that blighted much of his 2018, the Canberra Raiders hooker is now in line to pull on the jersey once more.
To heighten Hodgson’s mood further, the opening Test against New Zealand is in his home city at Hull FC’s KCOM Stadium.
His inclusion for Wednesday’s Test against France and the forthcoming series with the Kiwis is certainly a welcome fillip for coach Wayne Bennett given the number of recent withdrawals.
The majority of the squad that lost 6-0 to Australia in December’s World Cup final in Brisbane is missing for one reason or another.
Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins, Gareth Widdop, Alex Walmsley and Ben Currie are all injured while, latterly, Sam Burgess, James Roby and Luke Gale have pulled out to undergo off-season surgeries.
Chris Heighington has retired and Kevin Brown, the 34-year-old Warrington Wolves stand-off who hopes to win the Grand Final on Saturday, called time on his England career back in March.
Hodgson, of course, missed that showpiece game against the Kangaroos after cruelly tearing an ACL in the epic semi-final victory over Tonga.
But, crucially, the former Hull KR hooker is now here to lead England’s pack again as he explained to The Yorkshire Post: “The knee’s all good.
“It’s great to be back in the squad. It was a tough few months. When I first did the knee I thought I’d miss the majority of the year and maybe just get a couple of games in at the end.
“But when I spoke to the physios and they explained it was probably a six to seven months type of rehab’ injury I managed to get back (with Canberra) after 14 or 15 games of the season.
“I then played about 11 games in total and it does feel good.
“It’d be unbelievable now to play in my hometown against the Kiwis in a packed house. It’s always a great atmosphere in Hull – it’s a fantastic rugby town and everyone loves it here.
“Whenever you get chance to represent your country it’s the highest honour you can ever achieve in your career so I always look forward to these chances.”
Hodgson, 28, started his career at Hull but only made a handful of appearances before switching to rivals Hull KR in 2010.
There he honed his talent as one of the best hookers in Super League prompting Canberra to pay a six-figure transfer fee for his services in 2014.
Since then, Hodgson has proved his quality as a No 9 of international class, earning rave reviews in the highly-competitive environment of the NRL.
But the Yorkshireman added: “It’s great to be back now.
“I didn’t get chance to come home last year. It was the World Cup and then we were thinking about coming home for Christmas but I did my knee and needed the op’ on that and a lot of rehab’.
“I probably could have still come but I really needed to work hard on that rehab’ and we made the decision to stay.
“I’d not been home for two years which was obviously tough not to see your brothers, friends and family for that long but you have to do what you have to do.
“It was best for my career to stay there but it’s great to see a few old faces now.”
He saw plenty of them when he returned to Hull KR to see the Robins secure Super League safety by beating Widnes Vikings in the final round of Qualifiers.
““I knew it was going to be a big game as soon as I watched the Leeds v Toronto match a couple of nights before,” he recalled.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever cheered for Leeds in my life! But I must have been bad luck as they didn’t get the win.
“The KR game was very patchy at times. They were a little bit tentative and didn’t want to throw the ball around too much.
“But once they got the lead at half-time it was always a done deal. It’s just good they can look at signing some players for next year now. You just can’t do your recruiting when you don’t know where you’re going.
“That whole concept that they’ve had over the last few years is madness really.
“You can finish ninth and get relegated. But I think if you’ve done well enough to finish ninth you don’t deserve to go down.
“I’m glad they’ve changed the format now; I think it’s the best thing for the game.
“It makes it more exciting (one-up, one down and top-five play-offs) and hopefully Rovers can build a challenge.”