With confirmation that Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has dumped star halfback Trent Hodkinson for his team’s clash with the Cowboys in Townsville, it’s worth looking a little more deeply at Hodkinson’s role in the Hunter and what this means.
Bought to the club from Canterbury as a marquee half option, given the captaincy and asked to direct around a struggling group of young guys and veteran stop-gaps, Trent Hodkinson has not had an easy ride since he moved north from Belmore to the Hunter region, and it has just gotten a little rockier for the former NSW half with the news he will miss the trip to Townsville.
Indifferent form a cause for concern
The word coming out of the Knights’ camp is that the move was made on the back of a consistent run of indifferent form, with the halfback failing to make enough of an impact and the club registering just two wins since the start of the 2016 season.
Hodkinson himself had one of his poorer performances in the Knights loss to the Roosters where he had little impact in possession and cost his side a couple of tries with poor defensive efforts and it appears he has paid the price with the axing.
A popular figure at the club, and the team’s highest paid star, Hodkinson is thought to have accepted the decision as a wakeup call and will be keen to press his case for a return sooner rather than later, though it’s not expected that he will play NSW Cup this weekend.
Utility youngster Jaelen Feeney, himself a sufferer of indifferent form and criticism over his short career to date travelled with the team and is tipped to be drafted in to the final seventeen and take the burden of pressure normally felt by Hodkinson.
A nassive call for a coach to make
Dropping a captain is always a risky call.
If Brown gets the response he wants from Hodkinson, this could be viewed as a small blip on the radar and the former Origin representative could come back hungrier and better for the experience.
If he doesn’t, the Knights could find no way to utilise their highest paid asset. Paying Hodkinson a rumoured $600k to run around playing park footy in the NSW Cup will reflect poorly on management and further handicap a side behind the eight-ball in the league.
Currently tied to the club until the end of 2018, Hodkinson could make an expensive reserve grade half should he not rise to Brown’s challenge.
The Knights have been left stranded so far in the player transfer market after snaring the highly-prized Kalyn Ponga for 2018 from the Cowboys with moves to secure Keiran Foran and a number of other high-profile stars failing to eventuate leaving the Knights holding a sizeable purse and running out of viable options to sign.
At his best, Hodkinson is a State of Origin calibre half, with a strong kicking game and the ability to direct an attack around the park. At his worse, ‘Hokko’ can look disinterested and lethargic and pass through 80 minutes without making a real impact on a game, which is simply not good enough for a struggling team shelling out $600k-a-season for a leader.
As a coach, Nathan Brown has not shown any proclivity to shy away from tough calls, but the decision to dump Hodkinson, even for a lone-week could be one of the biggest gambles he’s ever taken.
Tackling the Cowboys
For the Knights, the disruption comes as they face a Cowboys outfit desperate to bank two competition points and return to the winning circle after a patch of indifferent form, a dangerous combination for a struggling side travelling to take on a talent-packed outfit like the Cowboys.
A tough task has been made tougher with the dumping of Hodkinson, but the long-term reward may well be worth the short-term pain, that is, if Brown gets the right response from a captain and one of the leaders in his squad.
Do you think dumping ‘Hokko’ is the right call? Let us know in the comments below.