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by Barry Dick, Monday November 08, 2004
Source: The Courier-Mail

JUSTIN Hodges doesn't regard his return to the Broncos as a chance at personal redemption; nor does he believe he has a point to prove to fans or critics.

The big Queensland State of Origin centre/winger is aware many Brisbane fans have slammed the Broncos' decision to take him back and is aware he has been painted by the critics as the most hated player in rugby league because of his in-your-face aggression and "sledging" during the 2004 finals series.

But being aware of what is being said and written does not mean the Cairns product, who was given an early release from a long-term contract with the Sydney Roosters to allow him to return to Brisbane, is especially concerned about it.

"I don't read a lot of what is written about me and I can't really stop what the fans want to say about me coming back so I'm not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it," he said.

"I'm back here to do a job and that's all that matters to me.

"All I want to do is play my football, and hopefully I can play well enough to convince people the Broncos have done the right thing by taking me back, but that won't be what motivates me.

"I'm not here to prove a point to anyone."

Hodges said the sledging issue had been blown out of all proportion.

"It's not as though I'm the only player out there doing a bit of it," he said.

"It's part of the game and everyone does it.

"All I'm trying to do is to get over the top of the opposing centre mentally. It isn't personal.

"It's a bit amusing that when our cricketers do it they're hailed as the `best sledgers in the game' but when a footballer does it everyone jumps up and down."

Hodges said he had no regrets about leaving the Broncos at the end of 2001 despite the acrimony it caused between him and coach Wayne Bennett, who dropped Hodges to Queensland Cup after he signed with the Roosters.

"It wasn't good at the time but I spent some time with Wayne at a Queensland Emerging Origin camp later and we sorted it all out. We're fine now," he said.

"Going to the Roosters wasn't a bad thing for me. It wasn't a bad three years -- I won a premiership with them, played in another grand final, got selected for State of Origin for the first time from there and made a lot of good friends, but it was just time to come home.

"Sydney was never going to be for me. I'm a lot happier in Brisbane because I'm with my family and that's important to me.

"I've always loved the Broncos and I'd be happy to play out the rest of my career here."

Considering the incredible roller-coaster ride Hodges has already had since he made his first-grade debut for the Broncos in 2000, it is hard to believe he is only 22.

After the well-publicised falling-out with the Broncos in 2001, he made a disastrous Origin debut in 2002, played in the Roosters' grand final-winning team in 2002, had a knee reconstruction after tearing ligaments in an Origin match at Suncorp Stadium in 2003, was dropped from the Queensland side after Origin I this year and was roundly criticised after the Roosters' loss to Canterbury in the 2004 grand final. And all in three years.

Hodges concedes he has lost ground to clubmates Shaun Berrigan and Brent Tate as well as Willie Tonga (Bulldogs) in the race for Queensland State of Origin spots but a maroon jersey remains one of his prime targets for 2005.

"Willie has done very well and was the best centre in the competition last year," he said. "The first thing I have to do is try to win a centre spot for the Broncos and that won't be easy with Berro and Tatey here.

"Origin means a lot to me. I've only played three Origin games and have had two bad ones and hurt my knee in the other. "It's made me more determined to train hard in the off-season, get fit and have another crack at it next season so I can show people I can play at that level."

Hodges left the Broncos in 2001 partly because he wanted to play fullback and Darren Lockyer had the No. 1 jersey under lock and key then.

"I'm a centre now," he said. "I haven't played fullback for a long time.

"Besides, Karmichael Hunt is there and he is quite a player."

The first official function Hodges will carry out as a returning Bronco will be the club's eighth annual western tour from Monday.

The five-day tour is heading to northwest Queensland, and the Broncos touring party will visit several regional centres including Charters Towers, Hughenden, Julia Creek, Cloncurry and Mt Isa.

More than 1000 schoolchildren will take part in junior rugby league clinics.