The real inspiration behind Justin Hodges’ emotional State of Origin swansong was revealed after Queensland’s record 52-6 series-clinching win.
He could be seen saying a quite prayer looking skyward during the national anthem before his final match of a 13-year, 24-game Origin career on Wednesday night.
Hodges’ thoughts were on his late aunty Cheryl who passed away last week.
Instead of toasting Origin success, Hodges will fly out to hometown Cairns on Thursday to attend the service for the woman he considered “another mother”.
“I just said a little prayer,” Hodges said of his pre-match look skyward.
“My aunty passed away last Friday, she was my closest aunty.
“Before she passed she said she wanted us to win the game so I just wanted to make sure she was there with me in spirit.”
Hodges only really confided in teammate Greg Inglis after his aunt’s passing, ensuring another touching pre-match ceremony.
In moving scenes, Hodges was almost reduced to tears when a heartfelt Inglis presented the veteran his final Queensland jersey before game three.
“It was very tough but I had the support of the boys,” Hodges said of the past week.
“GI (Inglis) knew mostly. I am glad it is over and get to head up to the family tomorrow and show my respects.”
Aunty Cheryl would have been proud of her nephew who did his best to add to his already impressive Origin highlights reel on Wednesday night.
He even borrowed from Inglis’ playbook, stretching out to bat the ball back into the in-goal for Matt Gillett to score just after halftime of the Suncorp Stadium clash.
“GI makes it look so easy, I thought I would give it a go,” Hodges laughed.
Hodges was given the honour of kicking the final conversion, providing Johnathan Thurston’s boot a much needed break in the eight tries to one romp.
“I was hoping it wasn’t from the sideline, it wouldn’t have made it,” Hodges smiled.
“I was nervous, I just didn’t want to fall over.”
Smith then gave Hodges the final honour of holding the Origin trophy aloft on the podium as the Maroons went into party mode.
Hodges joked he may come back as Queensland’s bus driver next year.
But asked about second thoughts on his representative retirement, Hodges said: “To leave on those terms, the way the game was, and to do it in front of family and friends, there’s no point coming back.
“No, that’s it.”