The return of Wayne Bennett was not enough to convince Brisbane veteran Justin Hodges the Broncos could be 2015 NRL title contenders.
A week ahead of the finals, Brisbane skipper Hodges admits he is now a believer.
Bennett made no promises when the master coach regained the Broncos reins for 2015 after a seven year absence.
But the Broncos’ long suffering faithful dared to dream of a seventh premiership in Bennett’s first year back.
Not Hodges, however.
“To be honest not in the first year – I thought it would take a few years,” said Hodges, who will retire at season’s end.
“But the guys have worked the hardest I have seen in the off-season, changed their mindset and you can see the respect the guys have for each other on the field.
“When you have a side doing that, you are going to be hard to beat.”
He may not initially have had the belief this year but Hodges had the burning desire to win another premiership after watching mate Greg Inglis in last year’s season decider.
Hodges watched in awe from the stands as Inglis inspired South Sydney’s first title in 43 years.
And after seeing the likes of Brisbane halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford blossom this year, Hodges believed the Broncos could end their own title drought in 2015.
“I went down to the grand final last year to support Greg and the atmosphere, the way they celebrated when they won – I just knew I wanted that feeling again,” said Hodges who starred in Brisbane’s last premiership in 2006.
“And if these guys (Broncos young guns) are working hard, anything is possible.”
Brisbane may have had some lean years since their last title but Hodges believed the setbacks had only steeled them for a 2015 tilt.
“We have struggled the last few years to make the eight but I think that has made us stronger as a group,” he said.
“We are always there for each other – that shows on the footy field.”
The 33 year old said he had found a new lease on life since confirming he would retire at season’s end but had no second thoughts.
“That’s the best advice I got from Locky (Broncos great Darren Lockyer),” he said.
“Once you have made the decision you get that extra 10-20 per cent you normally wouldn’t have, you’d stay in your comfort zone otherwise.”
Hodges admitted he was “counting down the games” ahead of retirement.
Asked if he was counting down to the grand final, Hodges said: “You always dream of the big one.
“I would be lying if I said I am not.
“There’s no better way to finish the career than to win the comp.”
But the 15 year NRL veteran revealed he would be satisfied wherever the Broncos’ finals run finished this year.
“It will be emotional but I think I am also looking forward to it (last game) – the body has had enough,” he laughed.