Why ex-All Blacks prop is open to Wallabies switch – and the ‘mental toughness’ he’s found in Australia
He might have pulled on the All Blacks jersey to take on the Wallabies four years ago, but Queensland Reds recruit Alex Hodgman says he is open to a switch of allegiances under compatriot Joe Schmidt’s Australian revolution.
“Yeah, yeah, I don’t see why not,” Hodgman told The Roar during a Thursday press conference.
“I’m always trying to challenge myself. I’m always trying to become a better version of myself, and if there happens to come my way, then I’ll take it.”
But just because Hodgman has played for the All Blacks doesn’t mean he’s expecting to be called up by new Wallabies coach Schmidt anytime soon.
Off the back of shoulder surgery, Hodgman just wants to get back to playing regularly and ensuring he plays his part in helping the Reds make the leap from pretenders to contenders.
At the same time, Hodgman says he’s learned the hard way that higher honours tend to come when you don’t put the cart before the horse.
“I experienced this before with the All Blacks when I was trying too hard to try become an All Black, I started doing things that were out of character,” he said.
“What I want to do is just be a great Reds man and then, from there, whatever opportunities come my way, I’ll take.
“But, at the moment, it’s like how can I get on the field? How can I compete with the guys around me? And how can I put my best foot forward here? Whatever comes from that, comes from that.”
Hodgman qualifies for the Wallabies through his Melbourne-born father and ended up secretly hoping the Reds chased him last year to make it a family affair in Queensland with his brother already living in the Sunshine State.
As fate would happen, new Reds coach Les Kiss, together with general manager Sam Cordingley, went after Hodgman and fellow former All Black Jeffery Toomaga-Allen to help ease the loss of Wallabies star Taniela Tupou.
“I’m truly blessed,” Hodgman said.
“I think it all tied in with my brother being here and mum and dad wanting to move over. Things have just fallen into place, and now I’ve just got to play my part.”
Not everyone has been pleased by the arrival of two former All Blacks props at one of Australia’s biggest franchises.
Hodgman accepts that ideally the Australian franchises would have the depth to cover positions, but nor does he think that the sides on this side of the ditch are walkovers either.
“I think ideally, you’d want to grow the game here first,” he said.
“There’s a lot of talent. What’s awesome is we’re getting the academy guys from the Reds and they’re actually joining our training sessions, and there’s a lot of potential here.
“Ideally, you’d want to look at your home first. But I don’t understand why people always say, ‘New Zealand teams are this and that’. When you verse Aussie teams, it’s going to be tough, and it’s always tough. Even though sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t dictate it, the battles you have with the Aussies teams, they’re tough.”
The affable prop has landed on his feet since landing at Ballymore.
But that’s not necessarily helped him acclimatise to the sticky conditions in Brisbane.
“I’m sweating right now. It doesn’t look like it, but underneath I’m very sweaty,” he quipped.
“But it’s cool because it adds another mental barrier that I haven’t had, or experienced, in New Zealand.
“In NZ you just train, you train hard. But here, it’s a different mental toughness because your lungs are burning constantly, so it’s been a good challenge.”
What Hodgman has particularly liked during his first pre-season with the Reds has been the emphasis on rugby under Kiss.
“Any pre-season is hard, it doesn’t matter where you go,” he said. “They always have targets they want to hit or get you to this sort of level, but what I’ve really enjoyed about Les and the staff is they’ve really taken the keys to rugby and rugby’s been the real focus and primary goal.
“Rather than just hit the field and go, we’ve had a real fine balance. I think that’s helped us a lot as a group bond and connect and find the little kinks and figure them out.”