Hodges laments Origin debut

How bad was Justin Hodges’ State of Origin debut?

The departing Queensland great admits he has walked out of a Maroons team function to ensure he still has not seen replays of his first game 13 years ago.

But the veteran centre believed his horror start helped him launch his glittering Origin career.

The 33-year-old has confirmed he will retire from representative football after Wednesday night’s Origin decider in Brisbane.

It will mark his 24th Origin – a tally made more impressive considering his ill-fated debut in game two, 2002.

Picked at the age of 19 and out of position on the wing, Hodges never looked at home before suffering one of the great brain snaps – and then offering up a repeat dose soon after.

A nervous Hodges fielded a grubber in-goal before inexplicably throwing a “hail Mary” pass and gifting NSW a try – twice.

Hodges admitted he had never seen replays of his nightmare debut – and had taken some drastic action to ensure it.

He revealed he had been forced to briefly leave a team function in Proserpine because a replay of the match was looming on the big screen.

“They had all the (Origin) tries (on the big screen) and 2001 (highlights) came on and as soon as that came on I walked out because I knew what was coming next,” Hodges said.

Hodges grew up fast in the fallout of his first game stinker but reckoned he was glad it happened.

“My first game wasn’t good but I was only 19 at the time and probably didn’t expect to play as early as I did,” Hodges said of his debut.

“I got overwhelmed by all the players that were in that side, probably didn’t prepare the best way I could.

“But in a way I’m glad it happened. I’m still standing here now and it made me a better player and obviously made me work harder.”

So did the merciless sledging.

Hodges is now a master niggler and may have honed his craft soaking up the good-natured barbs aimed at him soon after his Origin debut shocker.

“I copped it for a while,” Hodges smiled.

“Even my own teammates at the Roosters used to give it to me.

“You’ve got to have thick skin in this game but it’s made me a better player.”

For the record, Queensland won Hodges’ debut match 26-18 back in Origin II in 2002 – not that it was any consolation to the veteran.

“I know they won, that’s what everyone kept saying… but to me I didn’t win,” Hodges said.

“I didn’t play the game that I wanted to play and the game that I know I could’ve played.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to start but it’s been and gone now.”

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