Justin Hodges: 'I'm excited'

I am excited about the future of the NRL and State of Origin.

There are so many young guys coming through, who will only have a positive impact on our game. 

This year is my first year as assistant coach of the Queensland Maroons under Kevvie Walters, back in the State of Origin arena. 

Justin Hodges in action during his time in the Queensland Maroons team. Photo: QRL Media
Justin Hodges in action during his time in the Queensland Maroons team. Photo: QRL Media

So for me, 2019 is about making sure I do my job and try and bring that trophy home... that's the most important thing; that's where my focus will be.

We've started losing our big stars; you know JT has retired, Sam Thaiday, Billy Slater... there's some great players that are starting to leave our game because they're getting a little bit too old, but I think we're in wonderful hands. 

This year is about making sure we have the right players and everyone is happy. Again, making sure we bring that trophy back to Queensland. 

I think there's going to be a lot of young guys putting their hand up for contention this year, for sure.

We've got so much youth coming through and so much excitement around guys like Kalyn Ponga.

You look at them and watch the way they play and you think 'Oh my God', you know. These guys are just so talented and are just going to make our game a whole lot better. 

There's a few dark horses who could be in contention to play Origin this year. 

First, AJ Brimson, who I coached in the Queensland under-20 side last year.  Depending on injuries and the way people are playing, I think he's not too far away.

Justin Hodges with the Queensland U20 team in 2018, after beating NSW. Photo: QRL Media
Justin Hodges with the Queensland U20 team in 2018, after beating NSW. Photo: QRL Media

And obviously young David Fifita, who I also coached last year. I think the way he played in that All Star game tells us he can obviously handle that level.  

I think the future of Origin and the NRL is definitely bright. 

Outside of Origin, there's a few young guys I'm excited to see play in the NRL this year. 

Obviously there's Jake Clifford from the North Queensland Cowboys.

Jake Clifford in action for Intrust Super Cup team Northern Pride in 2018. Photo: QRL Media
Jake Clifford in action for Intrust Super Cup team Northern Pride in 2018. Photo: QRL Media

Having spent time with him in Queensland's under-20 camp last year, I think Jake is going to be the next superstar.

I think he's got a wonderful eye for the game; he just has one of those brilliant footy brains... he knows what to do in games.

And obviously he has spent some time learning from Scott Prince and Jonathan Thurston - both very good people to learn from.

I just think, when he played first grade last year over the last couple of weeks of the season, he was starting to develop his understanding of the game at that level - it's a lot faster paced. The more he plays, the better he is going to become.   

Then there is young Thomas Flegler, who made his debut for the Brisbane Broncos last night.

Thomas Flegler in action for Souths Logan Magpies in 2018. Photo: QRL Media
Thomas Flegler in action for Souths Logan Magpies in 2018. Photo: QRL Media

I had a bit to do with him as part of the Broncos' under-20 side, and he played in my Queensland under-20 side as well.

I'm impressed by his aggression; I think he's one of those players you have to have in your footy side.  He doesn't worry about things too much.

You give him a simple job to do and he'll go out and do it; he's not afraid to put his body on the line... he runs hard, he hits hard. So he's one of those players you just need in your footy team. 

Lastly there's 'Big Red' Corey Horsburgh; he was at the Cowboys and he's moved down to Canberra.

Again, he's just one of those guys who works hard and competes on everything. He's got a good little pass on him as well... a good little tip-on close to the line.

He's a bit like Flegler... he's just one of those guys you have to have in your side. He's going to give you 100 per cent each time he plays. 

Corey Horsburgh in action for Canberra Raiders during pre season this year. Photo: NRL Images
Corey Horsburgh in action for Canberra Raiders during pre season this year. Photo: NRL Images

It's good to see these guys making their debuts in the NRL. 

I'm excited for them and about the future of our great game.