Tonga v Great Britain Lions: Josh Hodgson proud to follow in Lee Jackson’s footsteps

Great Britain Lions player Josh Hodgson: Ready for the Test. Picture: SWpix
Great Britain Lions player Josh Hodgson: Ready for the Test. Picture: SWpix
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IT has been a quarter-of-a-century since Lee Jackson, one of the best hookers of his generation, last pulled on a Great Britain jersey.

Today will see one of the best rakes of the current game – and another son of Hull – follow in his footsteps when the Lions face Tonga in Hamilton.

He’s someone who’s been there, done it all and then come over here and played here as well.

Josh Hodgson on Lee Jackson

Josh Hodgson was still just a baby when Hull’s Jackson, the wiry and electric dummy-half runner, made his own Great Britain debut in 1990 but he remembers watching him during his second spell with the Black and Whites in 2001 and 2002.

Hodgson, who turns 30 next week, has had to bide his time to get his chance to wear the famous jersey although that is through no fault of his own; the iconic Lions have not played since 2007.

With England, though, and especially for Canberra Raiders – where he has excelled since joining from Hull KR five years ago – he has established himself as one of the sport’s finest exponents of the dummy-half role.

Having moved from Sheffield Eagles, Jackson famously proved his worth in Australia, too, winning a Grand Final with Newcastle Knights under Malcolm Reilly and alongside the legendary Andrew Johns in 1997.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Hodgson – who started out at Hull FC – said: “He’s not before my time; I do remember Lee.

“I’ve bumped into him a few times in and around Hull when I was younger, too.

“But I bumped into his lad James in Sydney not too long ago as well. He’s living in Sydney now so I said ‘hello’.

“Being in this kind of position (hooker), his dad was someone who you always looked up.

“He’s someone who’s been there, done it all and then come over here and played here as well.

“(Hull FC coach) Lee Radford was a big inspiration of mine as well. He was my amateur coach (at East Hull) and he won Super Leagues, Challenge Cups, World Club Challenges and was in the best Bradford team of all time.

“To have someone like that coaching you as a 13 and 14-year-old made it a real realisation that if you work hard you can do it.”

Hodgson has done just that. He has become an integral part of Wayne Bennett’s England side and it was no surprise the coach selected him as his No 9 for the reformed Lions, too.

“We’re building on what we’ve done in previous years with England,” he said, such as beating New Zealand in a home series last autumn and also reaching the 2017 World Cup final.

“It’s the first Great Britain Test for a long while now so we’re really excited about wearing that jumper with pride and making sure we set a really good standard in these first few games.

“Tonga are obviously a really physical side and always a difficult team to play against. You know what you’re going to get with their physicality in the middle and they have some pretty skilful blokes out wide.

“But we’ve had a real good start to the camp; all the training sessions we’ve had have been real sharp with really good intensity which is what you need when you haven’t got a long period of time building into the game.”

Hodgson was injured the last time Bennett’s side – as England – played Tonga in an epic World Cup semi-final in 2017.

He tore his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that not only kept him out of the final against Australia but much of the following season. There is no doubt Hodgson is back to best, though, illustrated by his brilliant form as he led Canberra to their first Grand Final in 25 years.

The Raiders were narrowly pipped by defending champions Sydney Roosters three weeks ago.

Hodgson recalled: “You want to be involved in all the big games in your career – whether international or club level.

“It was obviously a great occasion; there were 83,000 there so you can imagine the noise when we ran out.

“It went from being one of the most exciting days of my life to one of the worst once the final whistle went and we’d been beat.

“I probably didn’t want to talk to anyone for a week and kept my head down, tried to stay away from all the news stuff and footy for a while and have a bit of reflection. Hopefully, we can learn from that for next year.”

For now, all his thoughts are centred on the Lions – “I don’t think at all about the club stuff when it comes to Great Britain” – and helping them.

Today’s game is an historic occasion being the first time the sides have met.

Then there are two Tests against the Kiwis before a final match in Papua New Guinea, coincidentally where Jackson won the first of his 17 caps all those years ago.

It is safe to say the latest custodian of that No 9 jersey will cherish the honour just as much.