The five-eighth experiment that saw Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Griffin place Josh Hoffman at 5/8th appears to have run its course without really getting anywhere. The problem stems back to the Broncos signing Ben Barba when they already had a better than average fullback in Hoffman, but that’s a story for another day.
Griffin knew all along that he would be starting 2014 with Barba as fullback, but certainly didn’t want to cut Hoffman from the team altogether, and ultimately executed a plan to have Hoffman playing at 5/8th.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in hindsight that at the time it was a bad decision; Hoffman is a class act who has earned his keep in first grade ever since his debut, and it would only be human to assume he was worth the risk of experimenting with him in the halves to cover for the now departed Corey Norman. But if there’s one thing that Ricky Stuart has done right in the last 10 years, it’s been canning his own 5/8th experiment as he removes Jack Wighton from the 6 jersey and sends him out to the centres once again. Anthony Griffin should now do the same and relocate Hoffman somewhere, anywhere in the three-quarters section of the team.
So who then moves into the number 6 role?
Who sits outside halfback Ben Hunt to create that indelible link from centre field to the outside backs?
I have little doubt that Justin Hodges is the man for the job.
Watching Hodges on Friday night against the Titans all but confirmed previous suspicions I had that Hodges would be good enough to act as a playmaker on the edges. Just look at the Broncos’ first try that Hodges set up for Dale Copley and tell me it didn’t remind you of Darren Lockyer in the last few years of his career as 5/8th.
The way he casually held the ball up long enough to keep the defenders’ eyes on him before delivering a perfectly timed pass to put Copley in the corner for 4 points would have earned him Lockyer’s nod of approval, along with Wally Lewis’ uncontrolled cheers across the Channel 9 microphones.
Hodges isn’t getting any younger and of late has been victim of some serious injuries that have taken a slight edge off his overall speed. But he still has that uncanny ability to play the game at his own speed with the ball in hand, making everything around him appear to be in slow motion. It’s exactly the kind of cool, calm attitude a team needs from a second receiver and a trait that former great 5/8ths of the game possessed.
Cliff Lyons, Darren Lockyer and Jason Smith were all ageing 5/8ths by the end of their careers but to them it didn’t matter if the fastest or strongest players stood in front of them as they would simply go about their business with a nonchalant demeanour that had you almost certain that Lyons or Smith were about to casually light a smoke, have a puff and stamp it out before throwing the next pass.
I for one can certainly see Hodges taking up that role in the Broncos backline; taking the ball right up to the defence each time before drawing multiple defenders and throwing a hard, flat ball to an outside man waiting to dive over in the corner, just like Lockyer used to.
Surely he couldn’t be worse than Hoffman?