Hodgson building Force legacy

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

When Matt Hodgson first arrived in Perth, he thought he’d be back in Sydney within two years.

A short stint with the Waratahs hadn’t yielded a Super Rugby cap, as Hodgson waited behind Phil Waugh and a serious knee injury while playing Sevens had him for a time thinking his Super Rugby chances were over.

Eleven years on, it's a partnership that has developed Hodgson into one of Super Rugby’s most respected leaders, with the captain more than repaying the Force’s decision to bring him across the Nullarbor.

Central Coast-born Hodgson says his plan was just to give Perth a try, the beginning of a punt that has shaped both player and franchise.

“When I first signed, I signed a two-year deal and then I thought I would be gone to be honest,” he said.

“I thought I could give it a shot, see how I went and then move on.”

He wasn’t alone in that either.

“I think everyone thought, ‘Oh I’ll be here for six months and then go back to Sydney and play club Rugby or go back to Brisbane’,” he says.

Four years in came another “sliding doors” moment for Hodgson but this time he wanted to see this dalliance through.

That’s something on which he has certainly followed through, one of just two foundation players left at the Force, along with prop Pek Cowan, and one of its most pivotal figures.

Matt Hodgson in his early playing days. Photo: Getty Images

“It’s probably after the fourth year I had an option to go overseas or not but I finally felt that I belonged and I was part of something growing and I wasn’t ready to leave the team in that state,” he says.

“I thought we were building something big and I wanted to leave a legacy and leave the club on a good note.

“It’s probably been one of those sliding doors, ‘what ifs?’ but I don’t think about that now.

“I don’t think I’d still be playing Rugby if I chose to go elsewhere because Perth’s been great to me.”

Right at home in Perth now, it’s where Hodgson sees his and his family’s future.

The 34-year-old is seeing players make the same trip he did but with a different commitment and, more hearteningly, he is seeing a growing number of local talents in his squad.

“Now as you see players come across, they buy into the Perth lifestyle, they call themselves from Perth and part of Perth,” he says.

“Whereas in the past couple of years (we were) probably looking for overseas or interstate players, now our first point of call is probably Perth players.”

Matt Hodgson in his first full season as captain. Photo: Getty Images

Awarded the captaincy at the end of 2012, Hodgson found the role rejuvenated him, even after almost a decade of professional Rugby.

“The introduction of the captaincy has given me a few more years in my  career because it’s given me something else to train for and something else to turn up each Monday for,” he says.

“The added responsibility of leading a lot of young boys into battle each week is pretty exciting.

“You see them grow from not being in the side to being in the side and into actual leadership roles.”

While their entertainment has differences and the family man jokes he lives vicariously through the younger generation’s weekends, his enthusiasm for developing new faces shines through.

It’s a passion for mentoring that has him contemplating a post- Rugby coaching career and that same feeling that drives him to return to the Wallabies fold once again.

“There’s a lot of young blokes that enter that fray not quite ready for it, being away on the road for a long time,” he says.

“I’m fortunate but also unfortunate that I’ve seen the highs and lows of Rugby and...hopefully they can learn from what I did or didn't do.”

Matt Hodgson is presented with a match ball on his 100th Force match. Photo: Getty Images

Hodgson readily admits his work ethic has propelled him to his current position, though maybe unaware of the somewhat cult-like status his laconic off-field style and on-field doggedness has earned him.

“I’ve seen a lot of blokes with more skill and more talent than I have not make it because of their work ethic or not switched on mentally,” he says.

While Hodgson might play down his own role in shaping the Western Force, coach Michael Foley doesn’t.

“His playing speaks for itself,” Foley says.

“Off the field you've got a guy that's starting his own businesses, he’s got a family with two little kids and you’ve got a balanced person.

“He leads by his actions, not just his actions when he’s around the club but his actions in his whole life.”

When he does leave Rugby, Hodgson will not be short of options, between the coaching ranks, an expanding gym ownership and his involvement with mental health charity Livin, a cause that is close to his heart.

He is yet to make a call on his retirement, Hodgson says if he does sign off in 2016, he’s leaving the club in good hands.

“If this is my last year, I think the club from a playing point of view is in good stead and will be a strong unit for a while.”

And it seems that legacy he wanted to leave when he contemplated his future some six seasons ago is well and truly in the works.