A few years back, on the surface, all would have seemed okay with Broncos centre Justin Hodges. In reality however, things were much worst – as the representative centre battled his demons – demons of depression, that is.
At the time, Hodges predicament was not helped with a snapped Achilles tendon injury – as Hodges’s mother Cheryl fought hard to get Hodges back on track, and gave her son a wake-up call that he needed.
“I know Justin was worried if he would ever be back,” says Cheryl, who recalls vividly a time when Hodges seriously questioned if he had the mental fortitude to play again.
“We went through a tough time as a family. Justin wanted to throw it all away after that Achilles injury and I knew down deep that wasn’t what he really wanted.
“Justin has loved his football since he was five, football is his life.
“It got to a point where one day we all sat down as a family. His wife Gyanne was there. She has been his real strength.
“We said to him: ‘This is not the Justin we know, you’ve always been positive’. We had a big talk . . . hoping to put him on the right track. If we just left him, he would have given the game away.”
Although leadership qualities have never come easy for Hodges, as he approaches his 30th birthday, his stature in the game of league, is continually growing.
“He was very unhappy after the Achilles injury. He was very depressed, he hit rock bottom,” Cheryl says.
“He was drinking and it was horrible to see that, he pretty much gave up on football and life. He was running away from everything.”
It can be perhaps be deemed as somewhat fitting, that Hodges was roomed with good friend and fellow QLD back Brent Tate – with the two dwelling and reminiscing on their past injuries – injuries that have made them stronger players, and better people.
“It was hard. People go through those dark times in their life,” says Hodges as he reflects on his rollercoaster career.
“I had some great family and friends to support me, but the No.1 thing was always playing footy.
“Everytime I got on the field, that was a happy time for me. It’s something I’ve always loved, is playing footy. I take each game as a blessing now, I love putting on that jersey and running out in front of my friends and family. It still means everything playing Origin, everytime you get picked it’s like your first game.
“I have missed a fair few games so every game I always treasure and hopefully I can play a few more.”
As Hodges takes the field at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, his mother Cheryl will have a smile on her face – knowing that everything she did as Hodges struggled, would be worth it.
“I always get nervous when he plays. Just knowing all the injuries he has had, it’s hard to watch, but I always stay strong and positive for him,” she says.
“I’m really proud of him. “